Examination of Witnesses (Questions 390
TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2007
Q390 Chairman: We now welcome to
the dais Clare Moriarty from the Ministry of Justice and Mr Suffolk
who is the Government Chief Information Officer. Thank you for
coming to give evidence to us today. If I could start with you,
Ms Moriarty, the Ministry of Justice we are told "holds the
ring" across government in terms of data protection and data-sharing.
How does this work in practice as far as day-to-day issues are
Ms Moriarty: The Constitution
Directorate within the Ministry of Justice is responsible for
rights and democracy issues, and as part of that we lead the Government's
domestic, European and international policy on data protection
and data-sharing, and as part of that we are responsible for the
operation of the Data Protection Act. As the volume of data that
is collected and shared increases that obviously creates opportunities
for crime prevention, for tackling social disadvantage and for
improving public services. What we have to do is to ensure that
as we exploit those opportunities that they are balanced against
the need to protect people's privacy. The responsibility for privacy
aspects of individual policies rests with the departments responsible,
as obviously you have seen in the evidence you have already had
today. Our responsibility as the Ministry of Justice is to work
with departments to ensure that they remain compliant.
Q391 Chairman: So you advise them?
Ms Moriarty: We advise them.
Q392 Chairman: And on a European
level you take the lead?
Ms Moriarty: On a European level,
if they are individual policies, they will take the lead. We lead
on negotiating general instruments.
Q393 Chairman: And then you will
come back and give advice to other government departments?
Ms Moriarty: Yes, and particularly
on European and international issues we have created a group of
interested departments and we work with them on data protection
and data-sharing issues.
Q394 Chairman: Do you act as arbiter
between departments if one department is keen to get information
from another and they do not want to give that information? Would
you step in and advise?
Ms Moriarty: What we would do
is work it through with the departments. The critical issues to
be looked at are: is there a purpose for sharing information;
do the powers exist to share the information; is any intrusion
on privacy proportionate to the benefits that will be gained from
sharing the data; and is the data going to be adequately protected
in terms of the principles underlying the Data Protection Act?
Essentially that is a set of issues to be worked through. Where
there is more than one department involved we would help them
work through those issues so that they reach an agreement.
Q395 David Davies: One specific question
on thisand I have been trying to find out the information
for some time without much successand that is whether or
not the Department for Work and Pensions accesses databases used
by the Ministry of Justice effectively in order to find out whether
people claiming benefits are actually on the run from open prisons.
You might think it is so glaringly obvious whether that can happen
and yet when I have written to the Ministry of Justice, or its
previous incarnations, I have not been able to get a clear response.
Do the Department for Work and Pensions check a database, presumably
in the Prison Service, of those who have walked out of open prisons
to ensure that they are not accessing benefits? There are thousands
of people on the run and they are not all living in the woods
eating squirrels and wild berries.
Ms Moriarty: The straightforward
answer to that is I do not know. The individual arrangements that
the Ministry of Justice makes would be owned by individual parts
of the Ministry of Justice. If you would like me to take that
away and try and find an answer
Q396 David Davies: Would you? That
would be great. You will have more success than I have had.
Ms Moriarty: Hopefully.
Q397 Chairman: I think, Ms Moriarty,
that you just have to go next door, do you not, somewhere in Selborne
House the answer must be there?
Ms Moriarty: Somewhere in Selborne
House the answer certainly should be.
Q398 Bob Russell: Mr Suffolk, two
relatively brief questions. I understand that part of your role
involves enabling "public service transformation through
the strategic deployment of technology". What do you see
as the most significant developments in technology from the point
of view of delivering public services? Linked with that, how do
you fulfil this role across government, if at all?
Mr Suffolk: The first part of
the question first. Without a shadow of a doubt I think technology
is moving at its fastest rate ever, it is accelerating away. I
think there are three key developments that are going on on a
worldwide basis which clearly impact in terms of the UK public
sector. The first thing is the web/the Internet is underpinning
most major economies and most successful businesses. Most things
are something to do with web-based transactions. The second thing
that is happening is everything to do with communicationsthe
way we use mobile phones, our fixed linesis blurring and
everything is coming together in a converged approach. The third
thing that has happened ever since technology has been invented
is it is getting smaller. When you put those things together what
is happening is that every technology and every system is available
where you are when you want to use it and that fundamentally is
changing citizens' outlooks and customers' outlooks in terms of
what they see as the normal service that they expect. It is not
a service for our convenience; it is a service for their convenience,
and those things are happening in every walk of life. That is
where I see the big technological changes coming, the whole Internet,
the whole convergence of technology, and wherever you are technology
is moving, as we have heard in this room this morning, with mobile
phones, et cetera.
Q399 Bob Russell: Mr Suffolk, there
are a lot of people out there who are technology challenged and
I do represent the technology challenged. Where do we fit in in
this great brave new world?
Mr Suffolk: I think that is a
very good question because we do sometimes lose sight of the fact
that the Internet in terms of the UK has just over 60% penetration
and so not everybody does use the Internet, but it is not necessarily
the people that we would think about. There are some people who
do not have access to that technology. Our starting point in terms
of technology is first of all what problem are we trying to solve
or what is it that citizens want. Then we are looking for what
solutions best solve that problem. Therefore our belief isand
this is the work we are doing with David Varney as part of the
Transformational Government strategythat one route for
dealing with citizens is not acceptable. Some citizens will always
want face-to-face service; some will want telephone services;
some will want Internet; some will want all three. Therefore it
is very important that we do not disenfranchise any section of
the population by going down one particular route.