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Data Sharing Review

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Richard Thomas and Dr Mark Walport

Our personal information is important to all of us. We want to be able to shop online and have goods delivered to our door or workplace. We want responsive, accessible and individualised public services. And we want crime tackled quickly and effectively.

At the same time, we want to know that our information is safe, secure and protected from misuse. Exactly how is our information being used? How can we be sure it is being used lawfully? Who holds our information and to what end? And what impact is the sharing of personal information having on our private lives?

These are some of the issues considered by the Data Sharing Review undertaken by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, and Dr Mark Walport, the Director of the Wellcome Trust.

Final report

The review's final report concludes that:

  • there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the way organisations deal with personal information
  • there is confusion surrounding the Data Protection Act, particularly the way it interacts with other strands of law
  • greater use could be made of the ability to share personal data safely, particularly in the field of research and statistical analysis
  • the Information Commissioner needs more effective powers, and the resources to allow him to use them properly.

Recommendations

The report makes a series of recommendations, aimed at transforming the personal and organisational culture of those who collect, manage and share information:

  • to improve leadership, accountability and training within organisations
  • to ensure all organisations are as transparent and open as possible about how and with whom data are shared, with what authority, for what purposes and with what protections and safeguards
  • to clarify and simplify the legal framework governing data sharing, including provisions to guarantee better and more authoritative guidance for practitioners
  • to introduce a new statutory procedure to remove unnecessary legal barriers, whilst maintaining robust privacy protections
  • to enhance the role of the Information Commissioner's Officer, providing more robust and properly-resourced powers
  • to develop mechanisms that will enable population-based research and statistical analysis for public benefit, whilst safeguarding the privacy of individuals
  • to help safeguard and protect personal information held in publicly available sources.

 

Terms of reference

The review was set up to:

  • consider whether there should be any changes to the way the Data Protection Act 1998 operates in the UK and the options for implementing any such changes
  • provide recommendations on the powers and sanctions available to the regulator and courts in the legislation governing data sharing and data protection
  • provide recommendations on how data-sharing policy should be developed in a way that ensures proper transparency, scrutiny and accountability

Richard Thomas is the Information Commissioner - the UK's independent authority charged with promoting access to official information and protecting personal information. Richard is conducting this review in an independent capacity.

Dr Mark Walport PhD, MB BChir is a Director of the Wellcome Trust. He is a member of the Council for Science and Technology, the Government's top-level independent advisory body on science and technology policy issues.