Swinney fails to address privacy concerns over Scottish NHS database proposals

Deputy First Minister John Swinney today failed to address the concerns of privacy campaigners over Scottish government  proposals  to expand Scotland’s NHS Central Register. Leader of the Green party MSP Patrick Harvie had asked the Minister about concerns raised by the Open Rights Group (ORG) that the proposals could pave the way for a national ID register in Scotland.  

Executive Director of ORG, Jim Killock said:

’The Minister claims that they are not creating a new database but they are converting the NHS database into a national identity register. He did not explain why there is a need to create a unique identifier to be used across government databases. This is the crucial question that the Scottish Government must answer.'

About the proposals

The National Health Service Central Register (NHSCR) currently holds the names and addresses of around 30% of Scottish residents. Under the proposals, each resident would also be given a unique citizen reference number (UCRN). This number and the data would be made available to around 100 public organisations across Scotland. These range widely in their remit from health, housing, education and the police to Glasgow Airport and the Forestry Commission. The UCRN could be used to track individuals across different public services.

A unique identifier would allow the bulk processing of vast amounts of personal data across agencies, using the UCRN. This would enable data mining, profiling or other techniques that would require the whole population’s personal information to be examined more or less simultaneously.  The consultation is not clear about these activities.  It also doesn’t appear to take into account the many risks that such a database could pose - it could be open to misuse for identity theft or tracking people who for their own security don’t want to be traced - for example victims of domestic violence. 

ORG believes that these are significant changes that would pave the way for a national ID register and put responsibility for such an important database in the hands of National Records Scotland and the NHS. 

We believe that any proposals on this scale should be introduced as primary legislation not as statutory instruments, which would allow a proper public and parliamentary debate.

For more information:

FAQs about the proposals: https://scotland.openrightsgroup.org/policy/2015/02/19/the-scottish-national-id-database-your-questions-answered/

ORG’s full response to the consultation: https://scotland.openrightsgroup.org/policy/2015/02/02/a-national-id-system-by-the-backdoor:-thenhscr-scotland-consultation/

How people can contact their MSPs about the proposals: https://www.openrightsgroup.org/campaigns/stop-scottish-id-database  

The NHS Central Register consultation is open to the public until February 25: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/12/5990