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UK govt wants to share your data

Data protection rules could be relaxed

The UK government wants to relax data protection laws so it can share people's personal data across different government agencies, but critics are decrying the proposal as another move toward a "big brother" state.

Under the proposal, citizens would be asked to give their permission before their data is shared. In most instances, UK government agencies by law can't share people's personal information.

The goal is to improve government services and avoid citizens having to give the same personal information to multiple agencies.

The issue of data privacy is highly sensitive in the UK, where the government has several massive IT projects under way involving the national health service, border controls and national ID cards. All have raised issues over how data will be stored and accessed in databases.

Prime Minister Tony Blair will publicly present the plan later today, according to media reports.

Government officials were quick to say they do not plan a central database to hold the information, widely regarded as a potential security problem.

"There is no question at all of this being a further step down the road to a big brother state," said John Hutton, secretary of the Department of Work and Pensions, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme this morning.

Hutton said the plan is aimed at avoiding the hassles of the kind one family experienced recently after the death of a relative in car crash. The family had to contact government agencies 44 separate times after the death within six months, he said.

"That is not an acceptable level of government service," he said.

The government will start a public consultation on its plans in the next two months, he said.

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