Personal data access faces parliament scrutiny

Plans that would allow more than 100 public bodies to access personal data through an individual’s NHS number are to be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament.

The proposals would mean organisations such as HMRC being able to see certain data on the NHS Central Register (NHSCR). Opponents said the move amounted to identity cards “by the back door”. The Scottish Government insisted privacy would be protected.

MSPs voted 65 to 60 in favour of a motion by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, as amended by the Government.

Everyone born in Scotland or registered with a GP north of the border has a Unique Citizen Reference Number (UCRN) held in the NHSCR.

The Scottish Government said opening up access to NHSCR would have a number of advantages, such as helping to trace children missing from education, identifying foreign patients accessing the NHS, allowing people to access public services securely, and helping HMRC to complete the tax register.

It added that “only a limited amount of data would be shared” and medical records would not be part of the register.

However, opponents have warned there could be a risk of a massive data breach. Critics have also questioned why the data should be shared with more than 100 public bodies, including Scottish Canals and Quality Meat Scotland.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie told MSPs full parliamentary scrutiny was needed of what he called a “super ID database”, reported BBC Scotland.

“The proposal has the potential to cover 120 organisations across the public sector. This matters because the current diffuse storage of information has an inbuilt protection from crime and misuse that would be lost with one super database shared across the public sector,” said Rennie.

“We know the problem with putting all your eggs in one basket or putting all your savings in the one bank or business. We should be cautious when the government asks us to do the same now.”

Rennie also took issue with the UCRN : “To allow all organisations to share that number means we move from having a series of numbers to one, single, universal number.

“It leaves open the possibility that information can be searched, profiled and mined.”

Swinney said the Government will consider all the submissions to its recent consultation on its proposals very carefully, and no decision has yet been taken.

He said privacy impact assessments would be a “necessary prerequisite” of any proposals put forward. “Decisions will also only be taken after there has been full parliamentary scrutiny of any proposals that we advance,” he said.

 

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