Data Sharing: SCL Response to Law Commission Consultation

December 29, 2013

Following a meeting of the SCL Privacy and Data Protection Group Consultation Meeting on 3 December 2013, hosted by Bristows LLP, SCL has submitted a response to the Law Commission’s Consultation on Data Sharing Between Public Bodies. The consultation workshop was chaired by Hazel Grant, Chair of the Privacy and Data Protection of the Society for Computers and Law and a Partner at Bristows, and was attended by a number of delegates, comprising a mixture of private practice and in-house lawyers who work with public and private sector bodies on data protection matters.  

The full response can be downloaded from the panel opposite. The response seeks to reflect the wide range of views expressed at the meeting and the many legal and practical points raised there.   

Tackling the Law Commission’s query as to whether there were inappropriate obstacles to data sharing between public bodies and whether UK law needed to be reformed, one participant at the meeting suggested that it might be the application of the law that created the problem rather than the law itself and that individuals need to be convinced that they should share data and that the recipient body will not misuse the data. It was generally considered that it was essential to consider what incentives there are for individuals to share data if sharing was to be encouraged. 

In response to the Law Commission’s question on the effect of concerns about personal responsibility on confidence to share data, it was pointed out that, although the likelihood of something going wrong when information is disclosed may be small, the consequences for the individual disclosing that data may be very serious. In light of the ‘fear factor’ and the climate of nervousness that exists around data protection law, if the sharing of data poses any risk whatsoever to an individual and there is no incentive to share, then that individual is very unlikely to do so.  

There were a number of observations made on the impact of problems in data sharing. One delegate suggested that difficulties with data generation and communication even within the NHS itself may affect issues such as insurance premiums, if the department responsible for organising insurance was not aware of what the relevant liability could be. A delegate also pointed out that the NHS comprises many different organisations, many of whom regard themselves as autonomous elements rather than as part of the same overall body, and as a result sharing within the NHS may be hindered. Another delegate suggested that the police, by contrast, appear to be better at sharing information between different forces, perhaps reflecting different cultural attitudes towards sharing.