Now the Tories want to sell your tax details to private firms

[Image: The Guardian.]

[Image: The Guardian.]

Not happy with its attempt to sell your health details to private companies, the moneygrubbing Conservative-led Coalition wants to sell off your personal tax data to companies, researchers and public bodies.

The government is considering how much to charge for the information, and claims that all data accessed by third parties will be “confidential”.

But the public has already been stung once by the Coalition’s incompetent attempts to go commercial. The proposed initiative to share NHS medical records with the private sector had to be suspended after a public outcry over “pseudonymised” data – a process by which medical records were said to be anonymous but it was in fact possible to trace exactly whose they were.

The plans for HM Revenue and Customs to share its data are, apparently, being overseen by Treasury minister David Gauke, whose relaxed attitude towards private firms led him to sign off on the infamous “sweetheart deals” that allowed multinational companies to keep billions of pounds of tax that they owed to the Treasury but didn’t want to pay.

Worse still, it turns out the government has already allowed private firms access to our data.

The government has strict rules about what can be released outside HMRC, with a near total ban on data sharing unless it is beneficial for the organisation’s internal work. But according to The Guardian, despite the restrictions, HMRC has quietly launched a pilot programme that has released data about VAT registration for research purposes to three private credit ratings agencies: Experian, Equifax and Dun & Bradstreet.

To comply with the law, the private ratings agencies, which determine credit scores for millions of people and businesses, have been contracted to act on behalf of HMRC and are “therefore treated as part of the department” – giving them access to tax data about businesses that would otherwise be confidential.

The government’s plans to change the law to allow the sale of anonymised individual tax data and release of the VAT register were buried in documents as part of the autumn statement and recent budget.

An HMRC spokesman told the BBC: “HMRC would only share data where this would generate clear public benefits, and where there are robust safeguards in place.

“Last year’s consultation made it very clear that there would be a rigorous accreditation process for anyone wanting access to the data and that any access would take place in a secure environment.

“Those accessing data would be subject to the same confidentiality provisions as HMRC staff, including a criminal sanction for unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information.”

So there. Do you feel better now?

Emma Carr, deputy director of civil rights campaign group, Big Brother Watch, doesn’t. She said: “The ongoing claims about anonymous data overlook the serious risks to privacy of individual level data being vulnerable to re-identification.

“Given the huge uproar about similar plans for medical records, you would have hoped HMRC would have learned that trying to sneak plans like this under the radar is not the way to build trust or develop good policy.”

Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, told The Guardian the information could be highly useful to credit rating agencies, advertisers, and retailers wanting to practise price discrimination.

“This is going to be a big battleground,” he said. “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. Anonymisation is something about 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.”

It seems the Conservatives in the Coalition are determined to sell information that doesn’t belong to them, and intend to grind us down with a relentless bombardment of initiatives and plans until they succeed.

They seem to by relying on the possibility that we will get ‘complaint fatigue’ and give up any protests. This is how they have beaten disabled people into submission to the draconian system for withdrawing state benefits from them; the system for appealing is drawn-out and convoluted, and many people with illnesses are too tired or weak to go through the process.

Also, this is another way of contracting-out government work to private firms, as evidenced by the VAT “research” that has been handed over to credit ratings agencies.

You can be sure of two things: Your data is not safe in their hands, and they won’t stop trying to sell it until they have been pushed out of government.

What are you going to do?

UPDATE: Campaigner Patrick Olszowski has responded to my challenge by launching a petition on the Change.org website. Please visit and sign!

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21 thoughts on “Now the Tories want to sell your tax details to private firms

  1. Barry Davies

    Given the government history of being incapable of running any IT system correctly no matter who is in charge why should we believe they can get this right?

  2. Hayfords

    There is nothing wrong with selling data to private firms as the data is anomymised. I used to own Direct Marketing company (junk mail to some). I bought data that had origins within government from about 1989 to 2003. The data is used for demographic profiling and analysis of effectiveness of marketing. There is no way to identify the individuals involved.

    1. Mike Sivier

      You’re a bit late for this party – we already know that the way the government ‘anonymises’ data is easily compromised and it is possible to identify individuals. In fact, insurance firms and credit agencies have already done so, with hospital records that the government was foolish enough to pass on to them. That is why the plan to sell NHS patient records has been put on hold.

  3. jaypot2012

    We all pay tax from the minute we are born – so which taxes do they want to sell? Income tax? VAT? Bedroom tax? Everything we buy or pay is taxed. I’d prefer they started at the top richest people and then work their way down to us lowly serfs.
    Our confidentiality has already been broken so they might as well go ahead – well they will anyway. Watch it get stopped if it does start with the richest…

  4. Hayfords

    The story about insurance firms being able to identify people proved to be false after it was reported weeks ago. I worked in the industry that uses that data and it is impossible to identify people. Most of the data is aggregated to a level where individual details disappear. Even the data that is at individual level is not even at full postcode level. It would typically be identifiable at a level of one per 5,000 to 20,000 depending on whether it was a real or metropolitan area. The work involved to even get closer to a smaller group of individuals would be huge and not economically viable. The types of companies that nuy this data use it for generating demographic codes like Mosaic. This is then overlaid over real individual databases at the postcode Area code like say AB24 or say AB24 3. Even if they could add it at individual level, it would have no stastical meaning as the use of the data only is of use at the aggregated level.

    The whole fuss is a scare story. The sale of the data is overseen by the data regulated and industry professionals.

  5. Hayfords

    I know the stories in Feb purported to show that you could identify individuals, but it was later proved that it was not the case. The sale has been ‘halted’ because of the silly stories about the sale. That is an easy decision to make as the data had already been sold. I could buy the data now from what are called list brokers.

    It is fuss about nothing. Far more invidious is the data that I could always have had access to that is not from government and is in the public domain.

    If I had some details about you and often it would be very little then in a few hours I could discover most aspects of your life from publicly accessible databases on line. With a couple of weeks, there is not much I couldn’t discover.

    1. Mike Sivier

      You’re saying you could buy government-held data about me, now, from “list brokers”? How dare the government allow this without my consent!
      I sense another scandal brewing here. Thank you for informing us – I’ll put a piece together vilifying Jeremy Hunt and all the usual suspects for lying to us about the security of our information and naming you as the source, since you have already kindly put it up on a public website.

  6. Hayfords

    I could easily find that your middle name is William and find the names of two people who are at your address. A lot more could be found apart from that free information in a few minutes. Large companies, especially financial ones know virtually every thing about you. They know the balance of all your bank accounts, CCJs, mortgages, what was paid for someone’s house, what mag subscriptions you have, what shares you own plus lots more. If I was running my company still, I could get the same data for quite a low fee.

    1. Mike Sivier

      That is hardly conclusive, as the information you mention is pretty much freely available in any case. Any further delving into my personal affairs and I’ll have to report you to the police, of course.

  7. Hayfords

    Any further information is in the public domain freely to view by anyone. That’s what public domain means.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I don’t mind people knowing my public information – that’s why it’s public. My bank account balance (for example) isn’t public, though – it’s confidential. If you were able to find that out, there would be serious repercussions, most especially for you.
      I think there’s a veiled threat in your last couple of communications. Perhaps I’ll report you to the police anyway.

  8. Hayfords

    I have no interest in your affairs. I am merely pointing out what is available to companies very easily. That is why the selling of tax data that is anonymised is a non story. Far more intrusive data has been available for a fee for at least 20 years to my knowledge. Central government has vastly more information at their finger tips irrespective of what they may say and it has been that way since the early 1970s to my own knowledge and I am sure earlier than that. Access of data by computer was certainly happening in the 1970s by government.

    1. Mike Sivier

      If it is true that central government has vastly more information – and more intrusive information, at that – then you are only reinforcing the message that this data must not be allowed into the public domain.
      It’s not what you wanted but you have provided an important service.
      Other readers, please take note and act appropriately.

  9. Hayfords

    I have no interest in people’s data these days. I am speaking of what I have seen. I have done work for government Dept’s as far back as 1970s. There is little point in worrying what information the government has access to. Just assume that they have access to everything and you would not be far wrong. It is far too late to be concerned about your data as there was never a point where you could have influenced it. Public assurances about intelligence, data access and usage don’t mean anything. There is an increasing need for data profiling for security reasons and that will trump any other considerations. There is no pathway or mechanism by which you can influence the growth of that data or its usage despite any impression to the contrary. The holders and users of that information will never discuss the situation with you on a level playing field.

  10. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    This government behaves less like a serious political administration, and far more like a bunch of corporate spivs stripping the assets and looting the country for what they can get. Personal information held by the government, such as tax and medical records, should remain personal and definitely not for sale to private, for-profit companies. The economic dangers from credit agencies and similar companies are the most obvious, but there are others, such as blackmail attempts by unscrupulous individuals or organisations. This attempt to sale private tax details to those credit ratings the government wishes to contract out part of the work of the Inland Revenue should be stopped. Now.

  11. MrChekaMan

    The government want to create an underclass that will be unable to get loans, medical care and the like, and they are not content with only picking on and demonizing the disabled, they want to go after those in work as well. We need them voted out before they do any more damage.

  12. Jean Casale

    If the government hold all possible information about me, then there is nothing I can do about it, especially as I am not aware of what exactly they do have on me, and they are not going to tell me. When they say it is for security reasons, does that mean they have the right to sell it off or give it to other people for profit, and possibly set me up for blackmail or fraud by disreputable companies etc?
    We know already that the government give away taxpayers’ money in contracts to notorious corporations, who have already defrauded us.

Comments are closed.