The loss of personal data because of theft of a laptop from St Albans District Council emphasises the need for a thorough overhaul of the way that public bodies collect and store such information. It’s not just St Albans. Sensitive personal details are held on overlapping databases across the whole public sector. I have previously challenged the Child Benefit Agency and West Herts Hospital Trust over the loss of personal data of local residents. This latest loss affecting St Albans residents is another signal that we need to rethink our whole approach.
I have also been concerned by the intrusive quantity of data demanded by Herts County Council for example in connection with CRB checks for school exchange families. The whole CRB approach of getting data on people who volunteer seems designed to build a database on those who contribute most to society. The district council must do its utmost to reassure people whose data has been lost. The results of its internal inquiry must be made public. But in a wider context we need to think urgently how cleverer use of database technology can help to transform the way that we choose to allow both public bodies and the private sector to access information about ourselves. We need to reassert the rights of individuals to their own identities.