More than 150 town halls have been blocked from accessing the DVLA database after breaking rules protecting motorists' privacy. In dozens of cases, councils were caught making unauthorised access to the database - which contains personal details of every licensed driver in the UK. In others, officials were barred because they hadn’t kept proper records of who was accessing the database, how often and for what reason.
The councils are among nearly 300 Government bodies or agencies who have been stripped of their DVLA access in the past three years.
Councils use the database lawfully to track drivers for parking fines, bus lane tickets and other infringements, but also to prosecute so-called ‘environmental crimes’ such as littering and dog fouling.
Privacy campaigners said the figures showed it was impossible to protect the public’s private data from unauthorised State snooping. The figures were published by Big Brother Watch only days before a major report is expected to blow a major hole in Government plans for a database of internet activity branded a 'snoopers' charter'.
A committee of MPs is expected to say that the Home Office's argument for keeping details of every internet click - including all web activity, Facebook, emails and even online video-games is flawed. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said: 'Concerns about the DVLA database have been voiced for several years, but it is remarkable that in just three years nearly half the country’s councils have been suspended from looking at motorists' information.
'The same concerns exist about a range of other databases and the public are right to be worried that their privacy is at risk across a range of Government services. The question is whether these suspensions hinder staff trying to do their job, while the staff doing the unauthorised searches escape proper punishment.'
A total of 294 councils and other public bodies had their access to the DVLA databases suspended or terminated in the past three years. Among them were major agencies such as Transport for London which collects the Congestion Charge. Another was Sussex Police, which had its access suspended for a month earlier this year because of 'audit issues'. Some 38 councils had their access permanently closed down.
Some suspensions followed access by staff who were not authorised to make enquiries. Others were the result of poor record keeping, or a failure to respond to DVLA requests for audit information.
A DVLA spokesman has said they take their duties very seriously with regards to the use of its data. Once approved to view the DVLA database, councils are given direct access with a username and password - giving them largely unrestricted access. It allows them to get at a range of information on drivers and vehicles, including convictions and penalty points, medical information and drivers’ home addresses.
On Monday a joint committee of MPs and Peers is expected to criticise the draft Communications Data Bill. The controversial law will require internet companies to store details of emails, website visits and social media messages for 12 months. The Home Office argue it is necessary to track terrorists and tackle organised crime gangs and online paedophiles, but the report is expected to say the case has not been made - and urge ministers to go back to the drawing board. The report is expected to spur Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg into opposing the Bill.
Big Brother Watch added 'If the current system cannot even protect basic information about motorists and vehicles, how can the public have faith that a host of information about who they email and what websites they look at will be kept secure and only accessed by those who are supposed to be doing so? The public do not have confidence that their data is being kept securely and their privacy is not being violated on a routine basis.'
The GOS says: All well and good, and it would be nice to think that the DVLA are taking seriously their duty to protect information about private citizens. But ... wait a minute ... is this the same DVLA that makes money by selling that same information to private companies? Well, yes it is. Which rather makes a mockery of their holier-than-thou attitude, doesn't it?
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