HMRC is in the process of drawing up laws which would allow it to sell anonymised taxpayer data to private firms, The Guardian revealed on Friday. The plans would allow the release of information where there was a “clear public benefit”, and would be open to public bodies and researchers as well as companies. The plans were originally included in the 2014 Budget document, but were buried so deep that they have only now come to light.
Security experts have warned that such information could be used – even anonymously – by retailers and credit ratings agencies to enable price discrimination, and the Chartered Institute of Taxation has warned the plans will harm trust between HMRC and taxpayers. Stephen Coleclough, the Institute’s President, told The Guardian:
“We are concerned that even the strictest safeguards and deterrents may not prevent misuse of the data, or identification of the underlying taxpayer.
“There are already examples of aggregate data being provided at such a granular level which would enable identification of the relevant individuals, and we are anxious that any broadening of HMRC’s powers of disclosure will inevitably lead to the identification of individuals, and a consequential breakdown in trust between HMRC and taxpayers, not to mention contravention of legislation such as the Human Rights Act.”
HMRC sought to assuage concerns over the new plans, highlighting safeguards designed to ensure taxpayer anonymity.
“HMRC is committed to protecting its customers’ information. We shall be consulting further on implementing the proposals for sharing anonymised data, and would only take forward specific measures where there was a clear public benefit and subject to suitable safeguards.”
However with the Government’s Care.data scheme (which would release anonymised medical data to third parties) on hold over similar privacy concerns, Conservative MP David Davis has labelled the plans “borderline insane”:
“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.”
Photo by HMRC