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Commissioner warns of UK data privacy threat

House of Lords looks at data protection

The House of Lords constitution committee has been presented with a list of government policies that the Information Commissioner says pose a threat to data protection rights in the UK.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said the national identity database that will underpin the controversial ID cards plan is "an area of particular concern". He also warned about the impact of the e-borders passenger checking policy, the full electronic health records being rolled out as part of the NHS's £12.4bn computer overhaul and plans to share road-charging data with police.

Thomas provided the list to the House of Lords constitution committee as part of its inquiry into the impact of surveillance and data collection. He said he questioned why "so much transactional data is going to be collected" on the national identity database, which would hold a record of every occasion an individual swiped their ID card through a reader.

Thomas was also "sceptical" about the need for a database on all children from birth "for rather vague purposes" of safeguarding their entitlement to education or health care, he told the peers. The ContactPoint database emerged from moves to improve child protection, but will cover all children not just those considered to be vulnerable to abuse.

It was "hugely important that parliament is vigilant" about data protection issues arising from legislation, Thomas said. He warned that "perhaps there hasn't always been as much scrutiny as I would like to see", citing the huge expansion of the national DNA database. DNA records taken by police were now held on the database even where individuals were not convicted of any offence, he said.

There were more DNA profiles on the database "than anyone would have contemplated" when the legislation establishing it was debated in 2003, he said.

Last month, prime minister Gordon Brown ordered a review of data sharing, to be carried out by Thomas and Mark Walport, director of medical research charity the Wellcome Trust. The review would look at where "boundary lines" should be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable data sharing, and what safeguards were needed, Thomas told the Lords.

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