The Rowntree Trust Report on the Database State

The Rowntree Trust Report on the Database State, available here, takes the debate on the database state to a new stage. While it is short on legal and political analysis, it does make a comprehensive listing of the number of large databases currently run by the Government and Public authorities. The report lists 46 major databases, and concludes that only 6 have a proper legal basis and are necessary and proportionate. Around 12 are taken to be illegal in the sense of breaching human rights or data protection law; the 46 databases are assessed according to a traffic light system, and this assessment and the other headline conclusions of the Report are set out in the useful Executive Summary.

The Report was made by the Foundation for Information Policy Research, and the authors include Ross Anderson and William Heath. The increasingly beleaguered Minister with responsibility for Data Protection policy at the Ministry of Justice, Michael Wills (remember the Information Sharing proposals?) has promised a response.

Datonomy readers may have read some of my previous posts, and it is interesting that the Report draws upon the idea of the soft and hard state (although using different words), and the blurring of the relations between them, that I suggested in my Datonomy review of the Convention on Modern Liberty.

It was also interesting to read the Report immediately after my Datonomy piece on 1984. It really did feel like similar worlds, particularly in a fictional (I think) section in the Report called Stephen’s story, about a life blighted by the actions of public authorities relying on personal information on government databases. I shall return to the 1984 analysis with renewed vigour shortly!

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