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Investigation over PM’s plans ‘to collect data on gov.uk users’ | Science & Tech News

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The Information Commissioner’s Office is looking into the collection of personal data on the government’s public internet service after reports Boris Johnson asked civil servants to collect “targeted and personalised” data on users.

The data watchdog tweeted: “We have contacted government regarding the collection of personal data on gov.uk in order to fully understand its approach to compliance with data protection law and whether any further action is necessary.”

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed News reported that the prime minister had ordered the Cabinet Office to turn the gov.uk portal into a “platform to allow targeted and personalised information to be gathered, analysed and fed back actively to support key decision-making” in the run-up to Brexit.

According to leaked communications seen by BuzzFeed News, Mr Johnson told government departments to send data to the government digital service and “work in partnership so that it can build a single consolidated view of how citizens interact with government through gov.uk”.

The leaked communications show that the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, described this move as “TOP PRIORITY”, telling senior officials “We must get this stuff finalised ASAP.”

Privacy campaigners raised concerns about the speed of the move, saying that it should not be done without users’ knowledge and rigorous checks to make sure data rights are protected.

Data protection experts said the ICO would be trying how to understand whether the data was collected in accordance with data protection law.

Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Boris Johnson, in Downing Street
Image:
Dominic Cummings, special adviser for Boris Johnson

Rowenna Fielding, data protection lead at Protecture, said: “The ICO will be seeking to determine whether personal data is being processed, and if so; whether this is being done in a fair, lawful and transparent way.

“A data protection impact assessment should have been conducted, and a lack of evidence that one has been carried out would likely be cause for concern by the regulator.”

The Cabinet Office told BuzzFeed News the data was collected anonymously, saying: “No personal data is collected at any point during the process, and all activity is fully compliant with our legal and ethical obligations.”

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