The Scottish government must reveal details about plans to create a “super database”, which would capture and store data about Scottish citizens’ health and link it with other government bodies.
The plans, say privacy campaigners, could be a ploy to sneak in a national identity scheme via the back door. The idea was raised in a consultation that closed almost a year ago, but never fully dismissed by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government.
Since then, the deputy first minister of Scotland, John Swinney, has remained silent on the matter.
Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, told Computing that the Scottish government has attempted to implement the plans via the minor consultation exercise that closed in February 2015. He says that he had expected the government to report back by the summer of 2015, but that there has still been no response.
He added that a response was long overdue because of the elections to the Scottish parliament in May, and that voters are entitled to know the intentions of the current government, as well as the attitudes of opposition parties, on what he called “a crucial matter”.
Killock said that the delay was “almost certainly because of public concern and controversy over the proposals”.
Under the proposals, public bodies as diverse as HMRC, Quality Meat Scotland, the Drinking Water Quality Regulator and libraries would be able to request access to data from the NHS Central Register, after gaining permission from Scotland’s Registrar General.
Each citizen would have a “unique citizen reference number” (UCRN), a unique ID that Scottish government ministers want to propagate across all public-sector databases, effectively linking them up to create a national ID system for Scotland.
One of the statements that the Scottish government and Swinney have stood by is that the government would “not create a new database” and would not “share health records”.
But Killock said that this was merely because the NHS database is quietly being re-purposed. “We need to know if the NHS database is going to become a de facto Scottish ID database,” he said.
Computing looked into the privacy, security and legal fears of the “super database” in March last year – asking the Scottish government what the purpose of the data collection would be – with its responses unlikely to inspire confidence in sceptics of the project.
Back in February 2015, when the issue first hit the headlines, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, an umbrella group for Scotland’s charities, said it would be pushing SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to drop the plans. Sturgeon, however, has yet to respond.