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Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 28, line 8, after ("Commissioner") insert ("after taking account of any representations made to him").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in Committee I moved a similar amendment seeking that it should be the duty of the commissioner, after consultation with the parties affected, to promote good practice by data controllers. The noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General said that he wondered whether a statutory requirement was right because it raised questions about who the commissioner should consult and that that would be difficult to prescribe. I took note of what the noble and learned Lord said. I have altered the wording so that the amendment I am moving today, Amendment No. 59, does not impose any prescription on who should be consulted, but states simply that the commissioner should take,

I propose the amendment on the basis that it seems an improvement which takes into account the noble and learned Lord's concerns. Given that he offered me a slight chink of light in Committee when he said that he would certainly have another look at the matter, I thought that I would come back with a better amendment. I hope that the noble and learned Lord finds it acceptable.

Again, this is a large group of amendments and your Lordships will note that it includes Amendment No. 71, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and which deals with data matching. I have my name to that amendment as I support the principle, but I shall leave it to the noble Baroness to go into all the details. I beg to move Amendment No. 59.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, this grouping contains Amendments Nos. 59, 61 and 62. The noble Viscount is right that he raised this matter in Committee when we indicated that there might be some advantage in requiring the commissioner to consult. We promised that we would think about it and we have. We have become convinced that there is an advantage in making the consultation mandatory. It is important that those affected should give their views as part of the process. We believe that our amendment, Amendment No. 61, which specifies,

    "and after such consultation with trade associations, data subjects or persons representing data subjects as appears ... to be appropriate",

meets the questions raised by the noble Viscount and others. On the basis that our amendment has been drafted to meet what the noble Viscount wanted, I ask him to withdraw his amendments, Amendments Nos. 59 and 62, and to endorse Amendment No. 61, the government amendment, which we have tabled bearing in mind the representations that he made.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister and I shall, of course, withdraw my amendment. According to my groupings list, other amendments are grouped with this and I do not know whether it will be convenient for the noble Baroness,

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Lady Nicholson, to speak to her amendments now or whether the Minister would like me to withdraw mine first.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that Amendments Nos. 60, 63 and 65, which stand in the name of the noble Baroness, come in the next group.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I have a different groupings list. I am grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 28, line 18, at beginning insert ("where so directed by the Secretary of State by order and, in any other case,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 60, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 63, 65, 66, 77 and 71, which is starred. In their places on the Marshalled List, I shall also be moving Amendments Nos. 73 and 76, but most briefly because they are part of the same thinking as this group of important amendments to which I am now speaking.

Clause 49, my proposals to amend it, and the new clause which I propose should follow it (Amendment No. 66) strengthen the position of the data protection commissioner particularly with regard to codes of practice. In justifying such action, perhaps I may refer again in greater detail to Article 286 of the treaty establishing the European Community, as inserted and renumbered by the Treaty of Amsterdam, to the effect that the Council, acting together with the Commission and the European Parliament,

    "shall establish an independent supervisory body responsible for monitoring the application of such Community Acts"--

as it were, on data protection--

    "to Community institutions and bodies and shall adopt any other relevant provisions as appropriate".

Therefore, it looks as though a commissioner will be appointed in Brussels with broad supervisory powers if the majority of member states go ahead, as we would expect, and ratify the Treaty of Amsterdam. It therefore falls to us to ensure that our data protection commissioner has sufficient powers and sufficient authority to be able to work effectively within such an important EU context.

I suggest that strengthening parliamentary control over this area of work is therefore good practice both with regard to the principles of parliamentary democracy and, in our democracy, given a change of government, it enables the Opposition to look at the activities of the commissioner and to flag up certain issues. That is why my two later amendments ask for positive rather than negative resolution.

The Minister and the Solicitor-General already know how important I think it is that we should address codes of practice particularly with regard to data matching which opens the door to blackmail and blacklisting with regard to household indebtedness and trades union involvement. From the point of view of individual freedom, codes of practice on matters such as data matching are safeguards

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with regard to the trend towards centralised computer filing. The immense increase in computer powers in the current decade has made "Big Brother" central filing not only a technical possibility by the linking together of data bases, but also an actuality. "Relational data bases" are a practice nowadays.

I am sorry to say that "data mining", which means searching for and extracting by automated means information of personal importance, has already been engaged in by government agencies for commercial gain. I cite an example which was given to me by a civil servant. In his private capacity he parked his car in a Safeway car park. To his surprise, by the payment of £2.50 Safeway was easily able to obtain his details from the agency which carries the powers of registering and licensing cars. In fact, he had no parking problems. He wrote to the agency asking how it could happen and it was made clear to him that on the payment of £2.50 it was readily possible for the agency to match a numberplate with a name and address and to give out that information to bodies such as supermarkets and carpark agencies.

It is therefore very important that codes of practice are drawn up for data matching and data mining for relational data bases. These and other codes of practice will come within the commissioner codes to be placed before Parliament so that Parliament, the general public and experts in this field of work are consulted in the drafting process under this part of the Bill, and Parliament will have authority to comment on such matters.

Finally, although such codes will not have the force of law they will nevertheless be extremely influential. I have no doubt that they are likely to be taken into account by courts dealing with data protection issues. I beg to move.

Lord Elton: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down perhaps she will deal with one point. The noble Baroness said that she was speaking also to Amendment No. 65, which apparently withdraws the requirement for the registrar to report to Parliament. I did not hear the noble Baroness refer to it in her speech. Can she tell us why that is so?

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Elton, did not hear me comment on that amendment then I doubt very much that I did so. I shall double check to see why I did not. I suggest that the noble Lord speaks to it himself.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I acknowledge that the Bill poses a thorny problem with respect to issues such as data matching, data sharing or even data mining, to which reference has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. On the one hand, I do not believe that there is any dispute among noble Lords that such practices need to be properly and adequately regulated. On the other hand, it is appropriate to ask whether the Bill as a framework measure is the appropriate place to achieve that objective. I have no objections to the general tenor of

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the arguments advanced by the noble Baroness. Proper and effective codes of practice for data matching are necessary. In so far as I have a difficulty with Amendment No. 71 for example, it is because while it may resolve the specific problem with regard to government departments its remit in the context of a framework Bill is a little too focused. Leaving aside the issue of government being a very big player in information terms, what of the wider world? More importantly, if it is right to regulate data matching in this way surely it must also be right to regulate data sharing, data mining, closed-circuit television and so on by the same mechanism.

I believe that to pursue such a strategy renders the Bill rather more unwieldy than it already is and fixes it in the here and now, thereby denying it flexibility so that it is applicable for a sufficient time in the future. Of course, this leaves the difficulty of how to regulate such practices within government and beyond. I believe that the most serious problem is one of transparency. The public do not really know what goes on with government and other databases. That being so, it gives rise to quite legitimate fears that perhaps data is being processed unlawfully by virtue of these practices. The real issue, therefore, is how to engender that transparency as well as greater public trust in the technologies involved. I tend to share the views of the data registrar on this point. In an ideal world it should be possible to ensure that the practice of data matching or any other current or future computer technologies which have implications for data protection is assessed on a case-by-case basis; that is, as a generality it is conceivable that the problems here can be addressed by reference to specific clauses in individual pieces of legislation as and when it becomes necessary so to do.

It may be that earlier in today's proceedings I enhanced any reputation that I may have had as a member of the awkward squad as far as concerned the Front Bench opposite. I hope that my views on this matter do something to help redress the balance. I wonder whether the Minister has any thoughts to contribute on the suggestion that I have made.

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