Data sharing – what’s the problem?

24 Sep 2013

Large amounts of information are collected about individuals by public bodies, such as local authorities and the Police, as well as by housing associations.

Although some data is shared between them there are significant obstacles to doing so in ways that are effective and useful.

Unfortunately, the law surrounding data sharing is complex.  Powers to share data are express or implied in numerous statutes and in the common law.  At the centre of limits on data sharing are the Data Protection Act 1998, which sets the rules for handling personal data, and the law of confidentiality, which protects confidential or private information.  Contract, employment and European Union law play a part, as does human rights legislation.

The Law Commission is currently consulting about this and asks (1) what are the obstacles to sharing data between public bodies; and (2) are those obstacles desirable?

There can be little doubt that failure to share data is sometimes difficult to understand and can adversely affect tackling anti-social behaviour. Let us hope that this consultation will clarify whether the obstacles are to do with the law or whether they stem from other practical or cultural barriers.