Government launches consultation on data sharing

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The Government has launched a public consultation on the Better Use of Data in Government (PDF).

The paper proposes a series of reforms aimed at better utilising the administrative data produced by the different government departments in order to improve services and save money.

A section of the paper focuses on the the sharing of data for national and official statistics and for statistical research. It notes the ‘complex patchwork’ of data sharing laws that have grown over time and goes on to propose ways in which the Office for National Statistics would use administrative data from across government and businesses if they had access to it. One example is if HMRC tax information was shared directly with the Office for National Statistics this would help to reduce the burden on businesses, which would no longer have to fill out so much survey information for the production of economic statistics.

The UK Statistics Authority released a policy paper (PDF) in support of the proposals, outlining why it needs more powers in legislation to access data. In a statement, National Statistician John Pullinger explained: ‘Access to timely and rich existing data sources from the public and private sectors can transform the quality of official statistics, and reduce our dependence on surveys which are costly to administer, and time-consuming and burdensome for respondents.’

The RSS also welcomes the proposals; its evidence to the Bean Review (PDF) and to the Science and Technology Select Committee's report on Big Data called for ONS to be given the right to access to confidential personal and business data (for statistical purposes only) from both the public and private sectors, to provide a better and wider range of statistics more cost-effectively.

The consultation also deals with data protection and privacy, emphasising that the new proposals ‘are not about selling public or personal data, collecting new data from citizens or weakening the Data Protection Act 1998’. To protect against the unlawful disclosure of data, it is proposed that a new criminal offence for unlawful disclosure is introduced where those found guilty will face either a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment. In addition, a statutory Code of Practice would set out if, how and when data can be disclosed.

Meanwhile, the RSS is holding a joint consultation event on 17 March with representatives from various interested parties including the Cabinet Office, UKSA, CLOSER (Cohort & Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources) and the Administrative Data Service taking part in panel discussions.

The government’s consultation runs for eight weeks until Friday 22 April 2016 and the RSS intends to submit a response.

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