HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has announced plans to sell the financial data of taxpayers to private companies under new laws in development.
The plans, overseen by Treasury Minister David Gauke, will see information sold to companies, research organisations and other public bodies where there is “public benefit.”
According to reports in a UK newspaper, the proposals were buried among documents as part of the Autumn Statement and recent Budget and HMRC is currently considering pricing options for the data.
Prominent Tory backbencher David Davis MP has spoken out against the plans, referring to them as “borderline insane.”
“The Treasury lists no credible benefits and offers a justification based on an international agreement that does not lead other governments to open up their tax database,” Davis claimed.
“The officials who drew this up clearly have no idea of the risk of data in the electronic age. Our forefathers put these checks and balances in place when the information was kept in cardboard files and therefore data was difficult to appropriate and misuse,” he added.
The government claims that there will be safeguards in place to protect the release of personal data, but the plans are likely to cause concern among privacy campaigners after similar worries about the NHS care.data scheme.
The patient information sharing programme is currently delayed for six months following numerous criticisms that include worries about privacy.
Now critics have turned their focus to HMRC in light of the news that it plans to release the VAT register and anonymised individual tax data.
“This is going to be a big battleground. If they were to make HMRC information more available, there’s an awful lot of people who would like to get their hands on it,” claimed Ross Anderson, a Cambridge University security engineering professor.
“Anonymisation is something which they lied to us over medical data, if the same thing is about to be done by HMRC, there should be a much greater public debate about this,” Anderson added.
HMRC has released a statement confirming it intends to make aggregated and anonymised data more available when the public benefits are greater than the ones provided by the Treasury itself.
It attempted to defend the move by claiming that taxpayer confidentiality would be protected.
“[We] are committed to protecting [our] customer’s information. We shall be consulting further on implementing proposals for sharing anonymised data and would only take forward specific measures where there was a clear public benefit and subject to suitable safeguards,” claimed the Treasury.