Public still to be convinced that departments will protect their data — ICO survey

New survey by the Information Commissioner’s Office flags ongoing public concern about government use of data

Just 36% of respondents to the ICO's survey said they tursted departments with data. Image: Fotolia

By Rebecca Hill

17 Jun 2016

Almost two-thirds of the public remain to be convinced that government departments can be trusted with their information, according to a new survey by the information watchdog.

Just 36% of respondents to a survey by the Information Commissioner’s Office survey said they trusted government departments with their information.

The ICO's survey asked more than 1,200 people for their views on data protection.

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It found that the public were only slightly more likely to trust government with their information than they were to trust energy providers  — 33% — or high street retailers — 32%.

However, trust in government increased for those in the higher socio-economic group AB1, at 41%, and millennials, at 43%.

High street banks garnered the highest overall levels of trust, with 53% saying they trusted them with their information.

Information commissioner Christoper Graham said: “This ought to be a real wake up call to some sectors. Consumer mistrust is never good for business. What’s more, if these customers’ concerns are well-placed, and organisations aren’t handling personal data properly they may be leaving themselves open to significant fines from the regulator.”

The survey also found that almost half of respondents disagreed with the statement that existing policy and regulation were sufficient to protect their data. Just 20% said policies were sufficient, which shows little change since the ICO’s 2014 survey, when 19% said policies were sufficient.

Meanwhile, there was a slight drop in the number of people who said that data protection should be regulated independently of government and businesses, from 79% in 2014 to 66% in 2016. Millennials and those in the lower socio-economic group C2DE placed the least importance on independent regulation, at 62% and 61% respectively.

Almost all respondents – 97% - said they had heard of the Data Protection Act, but just 6% of respondents said they had heard about the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

The survey also looked at people’s opinions on the Freedom of Information Act, with awareness of increasing slightly on 2014’s results, from 82% to 86%.

However, just 55% of respondents said they believed that they had the right to see what public money is being spent on, and 53% believed that they had the right to request information held by public organisations.

Some 38% of the respondents said they strongly agreed or tended to agree that the information they wanted about public organisations was available and accessible; while 30% disagreed. These were the same as in 2014.

They survey found that 57% of respondents said that being able to access information held by public bodies increased their confidence in them, while 57% said it increased their trust. Both of these are up from 2014, when they were 41% and 45%, respectively. 

Last month the Cabinet Office launched a new, government-wide “Data Science Ethical Framework”, providing civil servants with a checklist for policies involving the use of public data and warning departments against working with data in “a way which makes the public feel uneasy, without adequate transparency or engagement”.

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