Open data and personal data systems in the UK and England (+ Scotland and Wales and NI?)

A couple of months ago, Mydex (via William Heath) published a brief UK list of government initiatives on the Ideal Government site, looking at applications of personal data systems (PDS). The motivation is the belief that:

Only the addition of an individual-centric model to the existing organisation-centric model can deliver speed, convenience, privacy personalisation and choice to the individual, and cost savings and efficiency for the organisation based on better online authentication, cleaner data and feeds of personal circumstances and preferences

The past groups services under three headings:

  • Systems where a PDS is a prerequisite
  • Policies that share the PDS philosophy
  • Generic innovation activity where PDS could have a major impact

I put some notes together which I thought might be useful to come back to….

The first thing that strikes me is that it needs to talk more about the challenges raised by devolved/ federated government structures which may have different priorities and approaches to putting in MyData-like systems.

All the items under heading 2 (and many under heading 1) relate to English institutions. What is the situation in NI and Wales? How could the ‘One Scotland/National Entitlement Card‘ scheme fit in here, without being subsumed into a UK-wide structure? (Which wouldn’t be popular with the Scottish government). What about EU-level services? Eg the checking the E111, or the sorts of cross-border validation services that STORK is meant to provide? (It often puzzles me how insular the UK/English debate can be).

Back to more local issues, management (or at least awareness) of police and social work/care records are another obvious area for extension. This is potentially important since these agencies try to work together with health and education professionals when dealing with challenging people and families. Some of my colleagues have been working on systems that allow professionals in these sectors to share (appropriate, controlled and audited) details on individual cases and it would seem logical/fair that the service-user should also have a role, and some ownership over the data held on them.

This raises two further questions:

  • The role of NGOs and advocates: to what extent can they act on individuals’ behalf? Not everyone is data-literate and self-efficacious enough to use the data. We could end up enhancing the power & autonomy of those who already have it, and putting another barrier in the way of people who are not sure how the systems work.
  • At what point does ‘My Data’ merge into agency data (eg details of ongoing investigations, comments from professionals). Seems to me that identity is shared between the individual and society… and that I need to revert to some books on philosophy!

    More practically, I think the solution is likely to need controlling access and accuracy of data held on systems owned and operated by external business or organisations. The PDS could be a repository for the keys that prove the you have the correct rights. This would truly be empowering people to control or understand the data held on them.

All this assumes that agreed standards are in place with an accompanying support/development process, definitions and codes of practice to ensure consistency in use and application, and an understanding and management of the risks involved. Use of open data implies there also need to be clear rules about copyright, database rights etc.

Final thought: MyDex’s approach is that they will be a repository for securely storing personal data. They are not the first or only company to spot this opportunity in the market – see for instance or OwnYourInfo. But I wonder if this is a place where the right part of the public sector could have a positive role – for instance perhaps as an extension of library cards?

About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
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9 Responses to Open data and personal data systems in the UK and England (+ Scotland and Wales and NI?)

  1. Absolutely fair comment: this was a Whitehall-centric brainstorm. And of course the world looks different from Edinburgh, San Francisco or Singapore. The perspective that drives and interests us is that of the individual, and the question is where in the world is it best t start to see this perspective taken as the norm. If it’s Edinburgh, and Mydex services seem entirely in line with SNP thinking, then I’ll be up there like a shot to join the very capable Scottish colleague we have there already.
    Sot on re giving individuals the ability to offer informed consent in the sharing of social care records. A PDS like Mydex helps this.
    Government undoubtedly has a role as catalyst, relying party, provider of proofs of claims. And of course NGOs have huge role to play in helping make a a user-driven approach work. Mydex is closer to that camp as CIC/social enterprise.
    Clarification: Mydex does not seek to be the repository for everyone’s data. We want Mydex-enabled individuals to be able to look after and realise the value of their personal data.

  2. Thanks for the corrections and clarifications William!

    My post was very much a stream of consciousness – I didnt take the time to see how Mydex had been shaping up and was approaching access to data held on other systems, and in particular how you plan to model the links between people and the government bodies they relate to (I guess you can model a typical Scottish resident of Edinburgh who is a Scottish Power customer etc)

    I’m getting more and more interested in the interaction between privacy rules – and the need that we need to recognise that they should be driven by people’s need to express (and protect) their (multiple) identities. It seems the best way to get away from the negative check-boxing list of reasons not to do anything that privacy process seem to have become…

  3. Iain Henderson says:

    Hi Peter, the most obvious start point in Scotland for Mydex would be an interface to the Citizens Account, which is in place, but lacks the funding and resources to take it to the next stage internally. That conversation has started.



  4. Northern Ireland’s Open Data NI initiative ran out of steam (if it ever had any with only a handful of data providers) more than 18 months ago

  5. @Iain – sounds good, though the descriptions on the Improvement Service and Edinburgh Council websites go out their way to make it seem like it’s all about convenience for the councils, not empowering citizens!

    More to the point: has there been any work done on what citizens’ expectations of what data the council should have on them, and how it should be handled? (eg I would expect most people to want to know that once the council knows something, they wouldn’t have to be asked again)

    • Iain Henderson says:

      Hi Peter, yes i’d agree that most of the initiatives at present are organisation-centric, and get interested in the individual-centric approach primarily because it could dig them out of the hole they are in….

      We’ve not done specific work on citizen expectations of a council, but the deepest general research suggests that transparency (i.e. who holds what data on me, and what do they do with it) and convenience are key drivers for individuals.

      • Mmm. My instinct is that my expectations would be different depending whether I’m being a ‘council tax payer’ or ‘parent of schoolkid’ or ‘concerned citizen’ and that I would want different data exposed accordingly… though against that is my need to have a system simple enough to be able to remember and understand.

        A possible research project?

  6. @Alan Good example. As you’ll know, there are a lot of problems creating a sustainable model for OpenData? eg closed data may be a source of income/control for the owners; and the organisations bearing the costs of (cleaning and) opening up data are not the same as those who will benefit. Classic externalities…

    I wonder if setting up a Personal Data system will suffer from the same issues?

  7. Iain Henderson says:

    Yes Peter, there might well be a worthy research project in there. There has been work done around persona, but could be built upon. Any thoughts on funding/ resourcing for such a project?

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