Headlines: July 16th, 2008

The Information Commissioner believes that there has not been enough parliamentary or public debate on proposals to collect more and more personal information. Richard Thomas also argued that any government run database holding the telephone and internet communications of the whole population would be a step too far.

Mr.Thomas was speaking at the launch of his annual report, which also showed that a quarter of his decisions under the Freedom of information Act had ruled in favour of public bodies.

Pointing to the lack of debate, Mr.Thomas cited the expansion of the DNA database and the centralised collection and holding of information from Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras. Referring to speculation that the government was looking at the development of a database of personal communications he said it could be ‘a step too far for the British way of life’.

He went on, “I am absolutely clear that the targeted, and duly authorised, interception of the communications of suspects can be invaluable in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime. But there needs to be the fullest public debate about the justification for, and implications of, a specially-created database –potentially accessible to a wide range of law enforcement authorities – holding details of everyone’s telephone and internet communications. Do we really want the police, security services and other organs of the state to have access to more and more aspects of our private lives?”

He was speaking as his Office served enforcement notices against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the MoD following recent high profile data breaches.Both departments will have to provide progress reports on recommendations to improve Data Protection compliance have been or are being implemented.

On Freedom of Information the report shows the ICO received 2,646 complaints over the last year. It issued 395 formal Decision notices of which 30 per cent were in favour of the complainant and 25 per cent upheld public authorities’ original decisions. In 45 per cent of cases some part of the complaint was upheld and agreement was reached on other elements with the authority concerned.