Headlines: November 25th, 2003

New guidance clarifying the existing legal powers available to public authorities to share personal data has been published by the government. It is designed to act as a route-map through the law to assist public authorities with data sharing issues and concerns.The guidance has been drawn up by lawyers at the Department for Constitutional Affairs with significant input from legal advisers and other officials across government and in consultation with the Information Commissioner and the Local Government Association. It covers those areas of the law – administrative, human rights, common law duty of confidentiality and data protection – that have an impact on whether and how the public sector can share personal data for legitimate and appropriate purposes.

The guidance forms the first part of a Toolkit designed for the public sector covering data sharing. Ultimately this will cover a range of guidance which, taken collectively, will provide a ‘how to do it’ guide for practitioners in the public sector.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs says the proper application of the law covering data sharing should allow public bodies to make improvements to the delivery of services. It could also enhance partnership working and joined-up services in key areas such as child protection and crime prevention, which involve the use of personal data already held in the public sector.

The Information Rights Minister, Lord Filkin, said that the new guidance would enable public sector bodies to understand that data sharing could take place in a way that helped improve services and at the same time enable the department to respect people’s legitimate expectations about the privacy and confidentiality of their personal information.