Plans to sell taxpayer data labelled ‘borderline insane’

Apr 19, 2014

Government wants to share personal details of taxpayers where there is ‘public benefit’

PLANS to sell the anonymised personal details of UK taxpayers to private companies have been described as “borderline insane” by a senior Conservative MP and “dangerous” by tax professionals.

HM Revenue and Customs plans to share taxpayer data where there is a public benefit and has been looking at “charging options”, according to The Guardian. Plans to change the laws which prevent HMRC from sharing taxpayers’ details were announced in documents released as part of the autumn statement and Budget, and are being overseen by the Treasury minister David Gauke.

HMRC said that any sharing of data with private companies, researchers and public bodies would be subject to “suitable safeguards” to protect taxpayer confidentiality and would only be allowed where there was a “clear public benefit”.

But the plans have sparked uproar.

Former Conservative minister David Davis told the Guardian: "The officials who drew this up clearly have no idea of the risks to data in an electronic age.

"Our forefathers put these checks and balances in place when the information was kept in cardboard files, and data was therefore difficult to appropriate and misuse.

"It defies logic that we would remove those restraints at a time when data can be collected by the gigabyte, processed in milliseconds and transported around the world almost instantaneously."
Emma Carr, deputy director of civil rights campaign group, Big Brother Watch, questioned whether shared data would be truly anonymous: "The ongoing claims about anonymous data overlook the serious risks to privacy of individual level data being vulnerable to re-identification.”

She went on to compare the current uproar to recent controversy over plans to share NHS patient records: "Given the huge uproar about similar plans for medical records, you would have hoped HMRC would have learned that trying to sneak plans like this under the radar is not the way to build trust or develop good policy,” she said.

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