"Electronic life records" must support not attack
FOR IMMEDIATE USE: 30 October 2003
FIPR has called on the government to ensure that a
new electronic database of life events - births, marriages, deaths
etc. - supports rather than reduces privacy and liberty.
In a response to the Office of National Statistics'
consultation on their plans for such a database, FIPR said that:
This proposal amounts to establishing the
foundations for a compulsory dossier on every citizen. Once begun, it would
develop its own momentum as agencies discovered new advantages. Fraud and crime
prevention could be argued to justify the inclusion of information relating to
social security benefits, tax, passports, drivers' licences, criminal records
and much else. Public health considerations might be argued to justify extension
of the snapshot of information about the cause of death to an accumulation of
information about health events during life. The protection of children might be
argued to justify linkage with information accumulated by social services
departments. The needs of the war on terrorism seem capable of being used to
justify almost anything.
The proposed database is already intended to store
information that goes beyond its stated purpose. It is difficult to see the
justification for including occupations, ranks and professions of brides, grooms
and their parents, or causes of death, within the registration
Simpler measures could be cheaper, less invasive
and more effective. For example, a basic registry of deaths would allow the
Passport Agency to check applications for fraud.
Paper records provide historical evidence that is
hard to retrospectively alter. Any computer database proposed to replace these
records must be very carefully designed to ensure that it prevents information
being altered after the fact.
Nicholas Bohm, author of the response, commented:
"The government must avoid the risks of turning the register of births into a
set of comprehensive dossiers on every citizen." He added: "We should not be
moving towards a system where our very identity is dependent on registration by
the Government in a central database." "
Contact for enquiries:
Tel: 01279 871272
Mobile 07715 419728
Notes for editors
The Foundation for Information
Policy Research (http://www.fipr.org) is an independent
body that studies the interaction between information technology and society.
Its goal is to identify technical developments with significant social impact,
commission and undertaken research into public policy alternatives, and promote
public understanding and dialogue between technologists and policy-makers in the
UK and Europe.
Details of the government's consultation on "Modernising
Civil Registration" are at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/registration/whitepaper/default.asp