Government under fire over online data collection blitz

eu referendum 2The Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered “targeted and personalised” data to be collected on users of the Government’s website, amid fears the move rides roughshod over consumers’ data protection rights.

According to leaked documents seen by BuzzFeed, Johnson has ordered the Cabinet Office to turn the portal into a “platform to allow targeted and personalised information to be gathered, analysed and fed back actively to support key decision-making” in the run-up to Brexit.

Individual departments are being told to send data to the Government Digital Service and “work in partnership so that it can build a single consolidated view of how citizens interact with government through”.

Johnson’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, has allegedly described the move as “Top Priority”, telling senior officials “we must get this stuff finalised ASAP”.

The ICO stated: “The ICO has contacted the government regarding the collection of personal data on in order to fully understand its approach to compliance with data protection law and whether any further action is necessary.”

The Government responded: “Ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU on October 31 the Government Digital Service is working to ensure people have the best possible experience when they access services.

“All data remains anonymised and no personal data is collected at any point during the process. All activity is fully compliant with our legal and ethical obligations under the government’s data ethics framework.”

Some privacy groups have baulked at the move. Open Rights Group head of policy Javier Ruiz Diaz insisted that “secret orders are not the way to handle these complex policies that have generated huge controversies in the past”.

He added: “We need consultation and public debate to build social consensus for any new gathering of personal data, including the appropriate safeguards.”

Others remain unconvinced; data protection consultant and former ICO policy manager Tim Turner tweeted: “I don’t believe the use of data amounts to anything. Whether it does or not, ICO will sit on it for a minimum of 6 months and then do nothing.”

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