Category Archives: News

Invitation to submit nominations for the Quality Assurance Group, deadline 12 April

We are pleased to announce the call for nominations for the Quality Assurance Group.

The Cabinet Office have made the decision to open up the government’s analysis of the responses to the Better use of data in government consultation for external review. To carry out this review we are establishing a Consultation Quality Assurance Group and a quality assurance process under which the review will be carried out. Please, find more detailed information in the Terms of Reference.

This is the first time we are aware that government has opened a consultation process to the public, and we see this as an opportunity for creating real impact in open policy making.

Please, nominate yourself or others by filling out the Nomination Form by COP 12 April 2016.
We will select members based on the criteria outlined in the Terms of Reference and set a particular focus on the group’s balanced knowledge of proposal topics and cross-cutting themes. Involve will be transparent about choices and inform successful candidates and the network about selections on 13 April 2016.

A message from Cabinet Office on the “Better Use of Data” Consultation Launch

We are grateful for your involvement during the extensive open policy-making process on improving public authority access to data for the purposes of improving public service delivery, tackling fraud and debt, and supporting research and statistics. We are pleased to announce that the proposals developed through the open policy-making process have now been published and is now open to public consultation. The consultation document and accompanying illustrative clauses and consultation stage impact assessments can be found at:
We are encouraging views from as wide range of people (and organisations) as possible. Please do take the time to review and share the link with anyone who may have an interest in these issues. The closing date for responses is c.o.p. April 22nd.

Conclusions of civil society and public sector policy discussions on data use in government

Since March 2014 civil society organisations, privacy groups, officials from a number of government departments, academics and representatives from parts of the wider public sector have been collectively discussing how government can be made to be more efficient and effective through its use of data. The core focus has been to enhance the availability of high quality research and statistics from administrative data; prevent fraud and help citizens manage the debt they have with government; and ensure the right services are offered to the right person at the right time.

A paper outlining the conclusions of this open policy process has now been published, available here: http://datasharing.org.uk/conclusions/

The findings and recommendations set out in this paper will inform future work in the area, which may involve further consultation. Please direct any comments you have on the paper to Sam Roberts <<sam.roberts@cabinetoffice.gov.uk>> and Firoze Salim <<firoze.salim@cabinetoffice.gov.uk>> at the Cabinet Office, preferably by the end of 18th February 2015.

Response to Telegraph Article on Data Sharing Process

Yesterday the Telegraph published an article claiming that the government has plans to share “details of the financial history, qualifications and property wealth of millions of Britons” across Whitehall. I believe this article misrepresents the open policy making process that the Government is currently undertaking. Here’s the response I sent to the editor yesterday:

It is ironic that your article ‘Revealed: Whitehall plans to share your private data’, purports to identify premature judgements of policy makers on data sharing; as this is somewhat premature reporting in itself. The proposals you highlight are based on a Cabinet Office document published back in February at the early stages of an open and transparent policy making process. This is an imaginative departure from the way Government normally makes policy. My organisation, Involve, is helping to convene the external organisations taking part in the process. All parties recognise that secure, proportionate sharing could improve public services and save taxpayer’s money, but that strong, appropriate safeguards are required. This approach is working. Government is listening and there have been significant changes to the proposals since then, all of which are made public on www.datasharing.org.uk. Francis Maude, the Minister responsible for this work, is directly engaged and has made it clear that work is unlikely to progress without consensus. Currently my view is that allowing this subject to be explored is helping those outside of government to influence and shape future policy.  It would be a shame if this new approach was undermined by reporting that suggested that the Government is trying to slip these changes through when quite the reverse is true. While it is too early to say whether this attempt at open policy making will work, I worry that reporting which fails to reflect the process accurately increases the risks that it won’t. 

EDIT: 5 August 2014

Owen Boswarva has helpfully noted on twitter that the article refers to this discussion document published in April rather than the initial meeting which took place in February.

EDIT: 6 August 2014

Comments are now working again, apologies if you were trying to post and couldn’t.

Data Sharing Legislation: Safeguards to Replace Affirmative Resolution | ONS proposal

Paper prepared by the Office for National Statistics.

Word version: Data Sharing Legislation: Safeguards to Replace Affirmative Resolution

Safeguards

1    ONS has developed some options for replacing Parliamentary scrutiny and approval, designed to provide adequate safeguards around data sharing for statistical purposes. These options are offered for discussion.

2    Under SRSA S47, Information Sharing Orders (ISOs) are approved by Affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament. Affirmative resolution fulfils two functions:

  • independent scrutiny of the proposal to ensure that the business case is robust and the conclusions justified; and
  • provides the legal approval for the data share.

3    Any alternative approach to scrutiny and decision making must have the same – or greater – rigour. ONS would wish that once a rigorous scrutiny has taken place, the legal approval for the data share be made quickly and easily.

The current approach: Information Sharing Orders and Affirmative Resolution in Parliament

4    Many steps precede the Parliamentary process to ensure that a proposal is appropriate and lawful. There are significant discussions between ONS and the data owner to establish the statistical and business case, privacy impact assessments and legal reviews. The governance arrangements for these decisions vary between data owners: in some cases the data share is reviewed by a departmental ethics committee, in others it is at Board level. These steps provide internal scrutiny and ensure that, from the perspective of the data owner, the share is appropriate, legal, proportionate and ethical. This work should continue to be part of any data sharing process.

5    Once Officials and Ministers agree that an ISO should be laid, the Minister for the Cabinet Office (MCO) writes round to all Ministerial colleagues to secure their agreement to the Order. If Ministers are content, the Order is laid before Parliament. Once laid, but before debate, it is reviewed by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (JCSI) to assure that it is properly drafted, and the Lords’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which considers the proposal to identify whether it:

  • raises issues around legal, political or public policy; or
  • is inappropriate because circumstances have changed since the relevant primary legislation was passed; or
  • inappropriately implements EU legislation; or
  • imperfectly achieves its policy objectives.

6    A short debate follows, in each House, informed by any issues raised by the Scrutiny Committees. There is no scope to amend the Order: it stands or falls as laid. Affirmative resolution provides the opportunity for external scrutiny check before the data owner gets the legal permission to share data: it is currently the only point in the data sharing process where a cross-government view is possible.

7    Hansard shows the depth and nature of the debates for the five ISOs that have been laid. The number of attendees at the debates has ranged from two to fifteen; the length of debates is usually 15-30 minutes; the longest debate lasted 40 minutes (this was the first ISO), the shortest debate lasted one minute. The debates rarely consider the details of the data share, but instead discuss wider issues related to it (for example, the importance of the Census, or data security). Assuming the Order is approved by both Houses, it is signed by MCO and the Minister responsible for the data owing Department, and becomes law. ONS has found that affirmative resolution process adds approximately six months to the time it takes to get a data share.

Possible alternatives to Affirmative Resolution

8    In considering alternatives to Parliamentary scrutiny, we have sought to ensure that decisions are made at an appropriate level, by someone who can be held to account. Data owners are accountable for the way they hold and use their data: how far should they be accountable for decisions about how that data is used? Should they be responsible for approving data sharing?

9    We have also considered the place for independent external scrutiny of data sharing proposals. Independent scrutiny provides support to those making decisions about complex or unfamiliar issues, and assures the public that the proposal has been considered from an external perspective. It should be transparent, with decisions and advice made public. It should be rigorous, giving detailed consideration to each proposal, and provide assurance that the proposal:

  • is in the public interest;
  • is lawful;
  • supports a valid statistical purpose; and
  • appropriately reflects practical issues such as compliance with Government security policy frameworks and standards.

Option 1: Information Sharing Orders Approved by Affirmative Resolution (Do Nothing)

10    The process of affirmative resolution is set out in paragraphs 4-6. The advantages of this approach are:

  • Decision made by Parliament, and has the clear force of law;
  • Decision is independent from the parties to the proposed data share;
  • Discussion around the proposal is documented in Hansard and available to the public.

11    The disadvantages of this approach are:

  • MCO, in laying the Order, is dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the same Officials who have prepared the business case under consideration.
  • debates rarely consider the detail – as described in paragraph 9 – of the proposed data share;
  • debates are on a case by case basis and there is little opportunity to develop a common understanding of the issues around data sharing for statistical purposes and how to address them;
  • Officials draft ISOs cautiously because it is not possible to amend the Order as a result of debate. This limits the scope for using the reusing data for other statistical outputs;
  • an Order is necessary even where what is contemplates is a feasibility study to assess the benefits of a substantive data share;
  • the process is time-consuming and dependent upon the availability of Parliamentary time and adds unnecessary time.

Option 2: Information Sharing Orders Approved by Negative Resolution

12    The process for this is very similar to the current situation and represents the minimum change in the arrangements. MCO would write-round to all Ministerial colleagues to secure their agreement to the Order. Assuming their agreement, the Order would be laid before Parliament and considered JCSI and by the Lords’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Once laid, the Order becomes law without a debate or a vote. However, if there is an objection from either House within 40 days, it will be annulled.

13    The advantages of this approach are:

  • the approach is well-established and understood
  • Parliament is involved and the Order clearly has the force of law
  • greater accessibility for Parliamentarians – their contribution would not be constrained by their availability for the debate;
  • the approach provides a degree of speed, in that it is not dependent on the Parliamentary timetable and availability of a time slot for a debate.

14    Disadvantages include;

  • although independent from officials making the business case, it does not necessarily ensure a rigorous assessment of the proposal
  • it does not assist the development of a consistent approach or a body of precedent that can guide officials
  • MCO, in laying the Order, is dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the same Officials who have prepared the business case under consideration. 

Option 3: Decision by Minister, briefed by Officials

15    A business case could be submitted to the relevant minister by officials in the data owning Department, or MCO.   The Minister would satisfy themselves that the business case was robust and that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

16    On the basis of this assessment, and subject to the conclusions of a Ministerial write-round, to ensure that there are no objections from elsewhere in Government, the Minister approves the proposed data share.

17    The advantages of this solution are:

  • provided agreement exists at Official level, this would be a quick process, akin to the process of Ministerial Directions under the Statistics of Trade Act 1947;
  • the decision to share data sits with the Minister responsible for the data owner;
  • Ministers are accountable to Parliament, and could be challenged on their decision.

18    Key disadvantages are:

  • lack of independent scrutiny of the proposal, for example about whether the business case is robust and relevant;
  • Ministers would be dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the very officials who have prepared the business case under consideration;
  • decisions based solely on departmental advice and perspectives could perpetuate differing interpretations of what is permissible in law.

Option 4: Decision by an Independent Ethics and Approvals Body

19    This stand-alone body would only examine the business cases for data shares with ONS, under the proposed generic gateway. Paragraph 4 describes the internal scrutiny that takes place in Departments: this should continue and would be reviewed by this independent body to ensure that the business case was robust and that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

20    On the basis of this assessment, the Chair of the body would then give the legal approval to the proposed data share.

21    This body could include lay members as well as statistical and data experts, appointed by an independent authority or Crown Appointee with responsibility for data issues or statistics. With clear terms of reference, it would mirror some of the attributes of similar departmental ethics committees such as the DWP Data Sharing Ethics Committee. The committee could offer advice to Departments on request during the formulation of a business case, as well as making a decision at the end of the process. To ensure transparency, proposals could be posted publicly before they are considered, allowing the public the opportunity to make representations. Minutes, advice offered and decisions made by the committee could also be made public.

22    The advantages of this approach include:

  • independence from the parties to the data sharing;
  • inclusion of lay members to represent the public interests;
  • transparency of advice and decision making;
  • decisions based on a rigorous understanding of the data issues, privacy issues and statistical merits of the proposal;
  • consistent approach across Government to data shares for statistical uses, providing clarity to data owners.

23    The disadvantages are:

  • data owners lose a key element of their responsibilities – decisions about how the data is used;
  • there is no separation between the scrutiny of the proposal and giving legal approval;
  • the ethics committee consideration could add additional time and burden to the process, making it only slightly quicker than affirmative resolution;
  • it would add costs through the creation of a new stand-alone body which may meet infrequently.

Option 5: Advice from a Single, Independent Ethics Committee, Leading To a Ministerial Decision

24    In this model, an independent ethics committee could consider all proposed data shares made using the proposed generic gateway with ONS. It could comprise experts, appointed and operating in the same way as in Option 4 with advice and decisions made public. As in option 4, the internal scrutiny that we describe in paragraph 4 would continue, and would be reviewed by this independent Ethics Committee to ensure that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

25    The Ethics Committee would then advise the relevant Minister about any issues raised, or confirm that no issues are raised by the proposal. Subject to this, and the conclusions of a Ministerial write-round, to ensure there were no objections from Cabinet Colleagues, the Minister would then make the decision to share the data.

26    The advantages of this approach are

  • the decision lies clearly with the Minister responsible for the data, who is directly accountable to Parliament;
  • Ministers have the benefit of independent expert advice about the data share;
  • separate accountability structures for the scrutiny of the proposal and the decision to share data, so that both the Minister and the advising committee can be held to account;
  • decisions based on a rigorous understanding of the data issues, privacy issues and statistical merits of the proposal;
  • consistent advice and opinion across Government to data shares for statistical uses, providing clarity to data owners.

27    The disadvantages are:

  • the Ethics Committee consideration could add additional time and burden to the process, making it only slightly quicker than affirmative resolution;
  • potential overlap with the roles of ethics committees that already exist in Government. This could result in conflicting opinions and longer timescales for getting approval;
  • it would add costs through the creation of a new stand-alone ethics committee.

Option 6: Advice From a Single, Independent Ethics Committee, Leading To a Decision Made by Officials

28    This is similar to Option 5, with advice from an Independent Ethics Committee similar to that described in Option 4, but the decision whether to share the data is taken by an official in the data owning department. Officials are accountable to Ministers for their decisions.

29    In some cases, legislation already allows officials to make a decision to share data for operational purposes without reference to Ministers on each occasion; in other cases a Ministerial power is delegated to a nominated Official . Public authorities would need to ensure that there was a designated official with delegated authority to make decisions of this nature. As with options 4 & 5, the Ethics Committee should be publicly accountable for its advice.

30    The advantages of this approach are:

  • delegating decision making to those directly involved in managing and understanding the data;
  • speed of decision making leading to flexibility to changing circumstances
  • officials have access to independent, accountable, advice that covers the complex legal, technical, statistical and public interest issues;
  • consistent advice and opinion across Government to data shares for statistical uses, providing clarity to data owners;
  • transparency of advice offered by the committee;
  • there is separation between the scrutiny of the proposal and giving authorisation.

31    The disadvantages of this approach are:

  • at no point, is Parliament, or a member of the Government involved in the decision to share data for statistics;
  • the Ethics Committee considerations could add additional time and burden to the process, making it only slightly quicker than affirmative resolution;
  • lack of Ministerial involvement could lead to the perpetuation of a cautious approach to data sharing by Officials;
  • perceived lack of transparency and a dilution of accountability through exchanging Ministerial decision for a decision made by Officials;
  • it would add costs through the creation of a new stand-alone ethics committee.

Option 7: Decision by a Crown Appointee.

32    A person appointed by the Crown could be responsible for approving data sharing proposals in relation to statistics. Their decision would be based on a business case by Officials in the data owning Department.   In paragraph 4 we describe the internal scrutiny that takes place in Departments: this should continue and would be reviewed by the Crown Appointee, who would satisfy themselves that the business case was robust and that the proposal met the criteria set out in paragraph 9.

33    On the basis of this assessment the Crown Appointee would approve the proposed data share.

34    The advantages of this solution are:

  • provided agreement exists at Official level, this could be a quick process, akin to the process of Ministerial Directions under the Statistics of Trade Act 1947.
  • the decision to share data is separate from the Officials making the proposal;
  • the crown appointee is accountable to Parliament, and could be challenged on their decision;
  • a single decision making point in Government will facilitate a consistent approach to data sharing for statistics.

35    The disadvantages are:

  • the Crown Appointee would be dependant for advice about ethics and information law from the very officials who have prepared the business case under consideration;
  • lack of independent scrutiny of the proposal, for example about whether the business case is robust and relevant. It is likely that the Crown Appointee would feel the need for independent advice and create an ethics committee to advise them about the detail of the proposal;
  • unless the role is given to an existing Appointee, this would require additional cost in creating a new post;
  • the decision to share data is taken away from the data owner, diluting their accountability.

Yet more public views on data sharing

At the end of May, Ipsos MORI published the results of a poll conducted for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust on public views on privacy and data sharing. The poll focused particularly on the collection and use of personal data for security purposes, but includes a number of findings with broader relevance. Ipsos MORI, for example, report that:

“There is little appetite for data sharing among Government bodies, with 63% disagreeing that if a government department or other public body holds some data about you, other government departments and public bodies should have access to that information, and less than a fifth (18%) agreeing.

Similarly, just under half (45%) say that the government should never be allowed to share data they have about you with private companies, with around a quarter (26%) saying they should do this only if you opt in to data sharing and one in eight (12%) that they should be allowed to do so as long as you do not opt out.

The public are even less likely to want to see the government selling personal data to private companies, with 67% saying this should never be the case.

There is also opposition to the government and private companies storing and processing data outside of the UK, with 69% saying that they would oppose the Government doing this and 77% saying that private companies should not store or process data outside of the UK.”

These findings correspond with the findings of other studies that:

  • The public tend to reject cases made for data sharing in general terms, but tend to be more supportive of cases made in specific terms (e.g. particular use cases with tangible public benefits).
  • The public are opposed to the sharing of their personal data for commercial gain, but tend to be significantly more accepting of data sharing for personal or public benefit.
  • The public are very concerned about data security, and need to be able to trust that their personal data will be collected, stored and processed in a safe and secure way.

Find out more about the Ipsos MORI poll here: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3388/Poll-on-privacy-and-data-sharing-for-The-Joseph-Rowntree-Reform-Trust.aspx

See a review (conducted for Sciencewise) of the current research into public views on data and privacy here: http://datasharing.org.uk/2014/05/15/even-more-public-views-on-data-sharing/

Even more public views on data sharing II

The Office for National Statistics have recently published a series of six reports concerning public attitudes to data sharing: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/about-ons/who-ons-are/programmes-and-projects/beyond-2011/reports-and-publications/index.html 

Beyond 2011 Public Attitudes Research: Report on 2012 focus group research (207.3 Kb Pdf) May 2014
Beyond 2011 Public Attitudes Research: Report on 2010 focus group research (231 Kb Pdf) May 2014
Beyond 2011 Public Attitudes Research: Report on 2013 Opinions and Lifestyle Survey(187.6 Kb Pdf) May 2014
Beyond 2011 Public Attitudes Research: Report on 2012 Opinions and Lifestyle Survey(195.9 Kb Pdf) May 2014
Beyond 2011 Public Attitudes Research: Report on 2013 Cognitive Testing by Independent Social Research Limited (1.28 Mb Pdf) May 2014
Ipsos MORI Dialogue on data: Exploring the public’s view on changes to the census (3.2 Mb Pdf) May 2014

Even more public views on data sharing

Sciencewise has just published a review I conducted of the existing evidence of public views on the collection, sharing and use of personal data by governments and companies. The full report is available via this link: http://www.sciencewise-erc.org.uk/cms/assets/Uploads/SocialIntelligenceBigData.pdf

For quick reference, below I have reproduced the Executive Summary of the report.

Public views on the collection, sharing and use of personal data by government and companies

Executive summary

Ever increasing amounts of data are being generated, at a faster pace and in more formats than ever before. The growing power to analyse vast and complex datasets can offer great insight into complicated issues, improving the quality of decision-making, delivery of public services, scientific research and many other areas.

Business and government are united in their belief in the potential of ‘Big Data’ to drive economic growth, scientific innovation and service efficiency. The views of the public, on the other hand, are much more varied, complex and nuanced.

This review focuses on the public’s views on the collection, sharing and use of personal data by governments and companies. Though Big Data does not necessarily involve the collection or use of personal data, where Big Data is in tension with personal data privacy, ownership and control is where it is likely to cause most concern for the public.

This review finds that:

  1. Data about who you are (i.e. personal information) is generally considered by the public to be more personal than data about what you do (i.e. behavioural data), though this distinction is likely to become increasingly spurious. Awareness of data collection and use by government and companies is quite high, but the level of understanding of what this means in practice is much lower. This suggests that individuals need to be engaged on the issue as citizens (deliberating on the conditions and safeguards), as well as consumers (agreeing or disagreeing to terms of service).
  2. When asked, the public are ostensibly opposed to any form of data use and collection by government and companies, but in practice the public consider there to be no alternative to sharing personal information with government and companies in the modern world and expect it to increase in future.
  3. Personal benefit is the strongest incentive for being in favour of the collection and use of personal data by government and companies, but the public report currently seeing little benefit from sharing their data and little confidence that they will see benefits in future. The public also identifies public goods (e.g. health research, prevention and detection of crime, and unearthing of dishonesty or fraudulent behaviour) as potential benefits of personal data use.
  4. The public is particularly concerned about losing control of their personal data, with fear that they will become a victim of fraud or identity theft, and that their data will be shared with others without their knowledge or agreement.
  5. Offering a specific personal or public benefit can significantly increase the general public’s acceptance of the collection, sharing and use of their data by government and companies, but even when a specific benefit is offered, the public remain concerned about the collection, sharing and use of particular types of personal data (e.g. bank account, savings and pension details).
  6. There is no consistent “public view” on what constitutes personal data, the benefits of sharing personal information and behavioural data, and comfort levels with different uses of data. The public can be segmented into a number of groups sitting along a continuum between pro- and anti-sharing.
  7. The public thinks that personal data should only be used by government and companies for their personal benefit. People are keen to have more control over the use of their personal data and want stronger safeguards towards its use, and there is strong support from the public for more information on how government and companies collect, share and use data.
  8. It would be beneficial to gather more evidence around how public views change over time, the effect of media attention, what public views are on specific data technologies and what factors affect how the public makes trade-offs.

The combination of high complexity, low public understanding and high public interest, mark the issue of personal data use out as one that requires much greater public deliberation.