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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 March 2009

Keeping (illegal) tabs on us

ALMOST A quarter of the British government's databases violate human rights or data privacy laws and should be closed down, according to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

It says that eleven out of 46 major government databases break laws intended to protect the personal details of UK citizens.

The government uses databases to store DNA profiles for around four million people (see feature on democratic rights), biographical details of all children, hospital records and details of benefits payments. This is before the introduction of a national identity register, which will store biographical information, biometric data and administrative data linked to the use of an ID card.

The trust estimates that more than 16 billion pounds is spent each year on information technology projects, but it says the government has a dreadful record on handling public data. For example, in 2007 tax officials lost two discs loaded with sensitive data - including banking records - on nearly half the population. Not surprisingly, over two-thirds of the population no longer trust the government with their personal data.

Over 100 billion in spending on IT is planned for the next five years, but the government cannot provide an accurate figure for cost of this 'Transformational Government' programme. Only about 30% of government IT projects actually succeed. However, this programme was supposed to make public services better or cheaper.

Simon Carter

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