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Thursday, August 24, 2006 

Government plans to share personal information throughout departments.

...This is a time to push forward, faster and on all fronts: open up the system, break down its monoliths, put the parent and pupil and patient and law-abiding citizen at the centre of it. We have made great progress. Let us learn the lessons of it not so as to rest on present achievements but to take them to a new and higher level in the future...
Speech by Tony Blair to National Policy Forum, 9th of July 2005.

Kiss goodbye to the Data Protection Act. Say hello to a new snooper's charter. The government has come to the conclusion that in order to fully streamline the way the state works, it no longer needs to seek permission for your personal details (it seems likely they'll use the national insurance database) to be shared between different departments of state. As you can expect from Labour, this is being dressed up as part of necessary reform, and even as a step in introducing the "choice" agenda into the public services.

There's no need to worry though, as John Suffolk, tasked with making the "Transformational Government" agenda happen, tells the Grauniad that "Not all information will be shared." We can also rest assured that information will only be shared when it's in "the public interest".

Primarily, the main concern is that there will no longer be a 'functional seperation' between departments, meaning that it may no longer be possible to fight a local authority over a small personal matter without them gaining information on you that they previously wouldn't have been able to. Doubtless this will be glossed over with the predictable "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" argument closer. What's perhaps more worrying is how we've seen the government in the past conspire against those who have in some way threatened it: the whistleblower who leaked the information which led to the resignation of Beverley Hughes was variously smeared for his trouble. Craig Murray faced similar attacks when he didn't follow the government line. There's also the spectre of what happened in the run-up to Dr David Kelly taking his own life: Campbell writing in his diary about "fucking Gilligan", the Ministry of Defence's policy of confirming the name of Kelly if it was one that was put to them, etc. Once a government gets further powers, it's hard to grab them back, and they invariably use and abuse them for their own ends.

This isn't the only recent threat to civil liberties to emerge. Apart from the continuing campaign aginst ID cards, The Observer reported a couple of weeks back on an EU plan to fingerprint all children from a certain age (Sweden seemed to suggest that 6 was acceptable, although plan appears to be from 12), with the possibility that they may made available on a database to all current member states. This in addition to a continuing library project in some schools which requires all the students to have their fingerprints taken; apparently a card just isn't good enough anymore. Many probably wouldn't object, but parents are not being asked to give their consent in almost all cases. A campaigning website has been set-up to pressure schools into at the least making sure that consent is sought.

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