NFI proposals seek to give police more powers

Many people are aware that the UK Government is trying to give police more powers through the Police,Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. However, what is perhaps lesser known is that the Government is trying to do the same through the National Fraud Initiative data matching powers consultation proposals.

A couple of months ago data protection expert, Chris Pounder raised the alarm regarding the Government’s proposals to extend data matching from its current anti-fraud base to include any other criminal activity, debt recovering and data quality (e.g. improving accuracy of personal data) in a blog. He suspects that data matching for immigration purposes is on the cards-identifying those migrants who cannot work in the UK. The proposals set out in the NFI consultation document seek to dramatically extend data matching powers. This is deeply concerning. 

Over the past couple of months, Open Rights Group along with other privacy advocates and also migrants’ rights groups have written to the Head of the NFI to request that the consultation deadline be extended (which it has been until 5 May). We have also been developing our response to the consultation and this week published a briefing on the NFI data matching powers consultation proposals. The briefing summarises our main concerns about the proposals. 

At present, the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) collects more than 20 data types, over 8000 datasets, which is over 300 million data records from 1300 participant organisations. Examples of datasets collected include: public sector payroll, housing benefit, social housing waiting lists, parking permits, council tax, local authority pension payments, electoral register, right to buy, public sector housing.

The widening of the NFI data matching powers would not only allow police to use the service for the detection and prevention of any crime but without any restraints on what information they can request to ensure this is necessary and proportionate such as independent authorisation. The Government claims that the proposals will increase efficiency and improve the use of data in the process of government. Our briefing considers the proposals in the wider context of the Government’s stated desire to increase the collection and sharing personal data and what this means for privacy, civil rights and civil liberties. 

We believe that the proposals ‘should concern anyone worried about due process and potentially excessive police powers.’ For this reason, we are urging civil society groups to have their say by responding to the consultation.

Hear the latest

Sign up to receive updates about Open Rights Group’s work to protect digital rights.