Personal data on millions of taxpayers held by HM Revenue & Customs is set to be sold to private companies, reports The Guardian.
The proposal to sell the "anonymised" data has been confirmed by the Treasury, with the move to be rubber-stamped by planned laws buried in the chancellor's budget statement.
The Guardian reports that HMRC has already released VAT registration data on companies to credit rating agencies for "research" purposes, as part of the move to sell previously protected data.
As well as financial services firms, tax data would also be useful for retailers and marketers, when planning the best locations for new stores or for the pricing of new products and services.
The HMRC plan follows a similar government move to sell anonymised patient data held by the NHS to private companies, but that Care.data plan was recently suspended after fears that the data could still allow individuals to be identified.
While the government's general open data drive for government services has been applauded, the moves to release health and tax data have been roundly condemned by privacy watchdogs. And the Chartered Institute of Taxation said the tax data move could see confidence in the tax system being demeaned.
The government has continually trumpeted the need to put the big data it holds into the public domain, to encourage start-ups, for instance, to use it to develop new products and services. But, up to now, this data has been free to access and does not usually contain any personal details, covering anything from traffic statistics to the location of public conveniences.
An HMRC document quoted by The Guardian, said: "The government has decided to proceed with the proposal to remove the legal restrictions that currently limit HMRC's ability to share anonymised individual level data for the purpose of research and analysis, and deliver public benefits wider than HMRC's own functions, but they accept that this must be done only where there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect taxpayer confidentiality."
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