The government has ordered a review of data sharing by both public and private sector bodies.
The move was announced by prime minister Gordon Brown in a speech at the University of Westminster focused on civil liberties issues.
“Whatever views people have in the debate we are currently engaged in about the management of identity for entry into our country and in other respects, I believe we need a wider debate - right across the public and private sectors - about the right form of independent oversight and parliamentary scrutiny and safeguards,” he said.
Brown acknowledged that there is “continuing debate about identity cards”, although procurement for the controversial £5.4bn ID cards scheme has begun and eight firms have now been shortlisted as potential suppliers.
But his proposals for a review of data sharing were set in the context of wider use of personally identifying information including biometrics by the public and private sectors.
“We must always ensure that there is - as we have legislated on ID cards – proper accountability to Parliament, with limits to use of the data enshrined in parliamentary legislation, the exercise of responsibilities in this area subject to regular and open scrutiny by parliament, with detailed reports on any new powers published and laid before it,” he said.
Brown announced the review of the “framework for the use of information” in both the private and public sectors, to be carried out by information commissioner Richard Thomas and Mark Walport, director of medical research charity the Wellcome Trust. The review would assess whether current arrangements are “right for today's landscape”, he said.
The announcement comes less than a fortnight ahead of the Queen’s speech, when the government is set to announce legislation that includes measures for far greater data sharing. Three of the bills set out in Brown’s draft legislative programme in July included such measures, with one allowing HM Revenue and Customs to hand over data to private firms.
The Information Commissioner’s Office welcomed the announcement of the review, saying the review would consider how information is shared between organisations and how it is protected.
The review would also consider whether changes were needed to the way the UK’s data protection laws work, the ICO added, and would include recommendations on possible legal sanctions.
Richard Thomas said: “Sensible information sharing has clear benefits for individuals – for example in the form of more personalised services – and creates greater efficiencies for organisations. But, as the public and private sectors collect and share more and more of our personal information, the risks of security breaches and privacy intrusion increase.”