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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 14:56 GMT
Data plan 'not like Big Brother'
A filing cabinet
Ministers say data-sharing will improve access to services
Plans to make it easier for government departments to share information on people are not a move towards a "Big Brother" state, a minister has said.

Pensions Secretary John Hutton said the plan was to stop "overzealous data sharing rules" being "an obstacle to improving public services".

The government was not creating a giant database and people would not have to allow details to be shared, he added.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems called the plans a threat to privacy.

'Good place'

A change in data-sharing rules between government departments is one of the options put forward by policy reviews which Tony Blair announced last October.

It will be put to 100 people taking part in a series of five "citizen's panels", whose views will be reported back at a "citizen's summit" in March.

Research by Ipsos Mori, commissioned by Downing Street, and published as the review on data-sharing was launched, suggested that 81% of people wanted public services to treat people and the public "as customers".

But the research also suggested that a majority of people disagree that "in the long term the government's policies will improve the state of Britain's public services".

People are most pessimistic about the NHS - and the environment - improving in future years. Education is the only area where more people think things will get better than think things will get worse.

Mr Hutton said the public's "increasingly high expectations" of public services meant the services needed to be "more light-footed and flexible" - and data-sharing was needed to help this happen.

He said: "We are not proposing a new database. We are not proposing new IT systems here."

"I think it would be a good place to get to if we were asking people 'is it OK to share your information with other government departments?'

"That should be a routine part of the process of engaging with the public services."

Mr Hutton said departments already stored "vast amounts of data about individual citizens" but this was not usually shared, often to the detriment of the public.

For example, one family had had to contact the government 44 times to confirm various details after a relative died in a road accident, he said.

'Confident'

Cabinet Office minister Hilary Armstrong told the BBC's Daily Politics information shared by departments would be handled "professionally and sensitively".

She added: "What we want to do is explore with members of the public what we think needs to happen in order to make sure that we are confident about the quality of services that we are going to get."

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald accused the government of "moving one step closer to a 'Big Brother' state".

He raised concerns that ministers could "set up a database from the cradle to the grave".

The Liberal Democrats accused the government of "snooping".

Phil Booth, coordinator of anti identity card campaign group No2ID, said: "For a government that can't look after its own employees' personal information, and that is so plainly incompetent at linking computer systems, to imagine this will increase efficiency is ludicrous."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Minister explains why information should be shared



SEE ALSO
Tories attack data-sharing plans
14 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Whitehall plan for huge database
14 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Wider use of private data planned
13 Sep 06 |  UK Politics

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