Scottish Government’s “totalitarian” Named Person Scheme “dead in the water” – will this be a wakeup call for the UK Government’s Data Sharing plan?

Big Brother Watch Team / June 21, 2017

Last summer the No to Named Person campaign, which Big Brother Watch are supporters of, had a huge win in the Supreme Court against the Scottish Government’s Named Person Scheme.  You can read our blog about it here.

The success of that case led yesterday to the Scottish Government undertaking an almost total climb down on their plans.

This is a huge step down from the Scottish Government and one we warmly welcome.  We wish to congratulate Simon Calvert and the No to Named Person Campaign on their hard work in achieving this success.

To outline what happened yesterday; John Swinney, the SNP Education Minister announced the publication of the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill.

The rewritten legislation doesn’t entirely scrap the scheme but places such major restrictions on when and why personal data about a child can be shared and with whom, to the extent that the initial intentions described last year as “totalitarian” are to all intents and purposes dead in the water.

The original plans which would have seen a professional outsider, such as a teacher or health visitor, be imposed upon a family in order to monitor a child’s “wellbeing” or to ensure the child was being raised correctly would have permitted personal data about any child under the age of 18 to be shared amongst a range of bodies without consent or oversight from the family.  The plans were described by the Supreme Court judgment as incompatible with human rights and that the definition of “wellbeing” was too low a bar for data to be shared.

Despite an initially bullish response from the Scottish Government making clear they intended to pursue the scheme in spite of the judgment, yesterday’s Bill showed a change of tone.  A spokesperson for the Government was quoted by the Scottish Daily Mail as saying that parents will be “under no obligation to engage with the Named Person service”

Should a family choose to participate they will now have to be asked for consent to any personal data being shared; unless an overriding reason such as the detection of crime is determined by the Named Person.   Furthermore anyone intending to share data about the child or the family must comply with the data protection, with human rights and with confidentiality laws.

The assumption that the state should impose a “guardian” onto a family against their will was profoundly controversial, but so was the assumption about how people’s data should be accessed and shared.  The approach taken removed the individual from having any say or control over whether their personal data should or could be shared.

This is not an uncommon approach, indeed the UK Government’s approach to the Digital Economy Bill (now Act) revealed similar proposals regarding sharing data for purposes of “wellbeing” and legislating to ensure that the citizen is always kept at arms-length from their data once they hand it over to a government department of official.

The turnaround on this scheme we hope will be a wakeup call to the Government in London. Because as this sorry state of affairs in Scotland has shown, the importance of individuals control and protection over personal data and their private lives should not be disregarded or treated with disrespect.

Citizens must be put in control of how their data is accessed, used and shared and this must not be sidestepped on a presumption that Government knows best.  We hope that events in Scotland combined with today’s announcement regarding data protection in the Queen’s speech will prove to ensure that citizen control of their data is not just a pipe dream but a reality which will become law in coming months.