Government scraps data sharing plans

Jack Straw has bowed to pressure from civil liberty groups and public sector bodies, including the Information Commissioner, to scrap controversial clause 152 in the Justice Bill.

The Ministry of Justice has confirmed it will scrap a controversial data-sharing clause in the proposed Coroners and Justice Bill.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw decided to shelve plans to use citizen information obtained for other purposes under the Data Protection Act (DPA) in the fight against terrorism and crime, as outlined in Clause 152 of the bill.

The proposals have met with strong criticism from public sector organisations and civil liberty groups alike, which have expressed concerns over the powers it offered ministers to access and share personal data across government and with third parties.

Only last week, UK healthcare organisations called for medical records to be exempt from the proposed legislation.

In an open letter addressed to Straw, the British Medical Association (BMA) and seven other professional bodies said they had "grave concerns" over the threat to patient confidentiality and future research data.

The outcry from the health industry also followed renewed criticism of the data-sharing clause from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

In January, it warned "the bill's information sharing provisions represent an unwarranted interference with the privacy of personal information".

A Justice department spokesman told IT PRO today: "Due to concerns raised about the clause, we have decided to withdraw it from the bill and open consultation on whether to introduce such measures into future bills."

Although he would not be drawn on the process for consultation, many critics welcomed the u-turn. The BMA said in a statement: "We think it's vital for the doctor-patient relationship that this legislation does not go ahead in its current form. We welcome indications that the government is listening to the concerns raised by the BMA and a range of other bodies, and we look forward to further discussions with ministers."

The Open Rights Group thanked all of its members who responded to its call to write to their MPs on the issue, calling the clause "a profound threat to privacy, liberty and the rule of law".

The ICO had not returned requests for comment at the time of writing.

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