[Politech] U.K. "electronic life record" database draws protests [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Fri Oct 31 2003 - 06:29:52 PST

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    From: "Ian Brown" <ian@private>
    Subject: FIPR-Bulletin: "Electronic life records" must support not
      attack human rights
    Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 11:17:15 -0000
    You have received this message from the FIPR Bulletin mailing list run by
    the Foundation for Information Policy Research        http://www.fipr.org/
    Press release -- for immediate use
    30 October 2003
    "Electronic life records" must support not attack human rights
    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 system.
    * 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."
    Nicholas Bohm
    General Counsel, FIPR
    Tel: 01279 871272
    Mobile 07715 419728
    Notes for editors
    1. The Foundation for Information Policy Research (http://www.fipr.org/)
    is an independent body founded in 1998 that studies the interaction
    between information technology and society. Its goal is to identify
    technical developments with significant social impact, commission and
    undertake research into public policy alternatives, and promote public
    understanding and dialogue between technologists and policy-makers in
    the UK and Europe.
    2. Details of the government's consultation on "Modernising Civil
    Registration" are at:
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