News | Published September 14 2019

Information Commissioner’s Office to question government over plans

The Information Commissioner’s Office has begun to question the government about its supposed plans to collect personal data from users of the website.

This follows reports, first published by Buzzfeed, that Boris Johnson had instructed the Cabinet Office to transform into a “platform to allow targeted and personalised information to be gathered, analysed and fed back actively to support key decision making” on the topic of Brexit.

The same report stated that Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s foremost adviser, had emailed a number of senior officials to tell them this was “top priority” and needed to be “finalised ASAP.”

Alongside these efforts to collect the data of website users, the documents leaked to Buzzfeed showed that the government is attempting to accelerate the adoption of Verify, a digital identity platform for public services.

The government has said these measures will help inform Brexit preparations as well as make public services easier to access.

Big Brother Watch, a privacy rights campaign group, have raised concerns over these plans. 

Responding to Buzzfeed’s report, they said these measures raised “questions as to the legitimacy, urgency and purpose of such personal tracking.”

The ICO announced their investigation in a tweet which said: “We have contacted 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.”

In response to this investigation, a government spokesperson said: “Across the industry, it is normal for organisations to look at how their websites are used to make sure they provide the best possible service.

“Individual government departments currently collect anonymised user data when people use GOV.UK. The Government Digital Service is working on a project to bring this anonymous data together to make sure people can access all the services they need as easily as possible.

“No personal data is collected at any point during the process, and all activity is fully compliant with our legal and ethical obligations.”

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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
September 14 2019

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