The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is due to be voted through the report stage in House of Commons on Wednesday. It is a few steps away from becoming law, as it needs to pass the Lords and Final Stages.
However, privacy and data campaigners have warned that potentially monitoring millions of people sets “an incredibly dangerous precedent.”
A government spokesperson told The Epoch Times by email: “These suggestions are entirely misleading. The measures will allow us to take the fight to benefit fraudsters who are intent on ripping off the public purse, saving taxpayers £600 million over the next five years.
“We are protecting the privacy of individuals by only accessing data in cases where there is a potential signal of fraud or error, and only requesting the minimum information needed to enable further query.
“As benefit claimants self-verify their own capital during the application process, these changes allow us to proactively spot increases which push claimants over the savings threshold of £16,000, and alert authorities to instances where claimants are spending more time abroad than the rules allow.”
The wide-ranging bill seeks to “improve how the nation uses and accesses personal data, capitalising on the UK’s departure from the European Union.”
For example, it will establish a “framework for the provision of digital verification services to enable digital identities to be used with the same confidence as paper documents.”
These amendments will be considered by the House of Commons today.
The government said that these proposals would allow regular “checks to be carried out on the bank accounts held by benefit claimants to spot increases in their savings which push them over the benefit eligibility threshold, or when people send more time overseas than the benefit rules allow for.”
Force Financial Institutions to Hand Over Personal InformationCampaign groups have warned that this will force financial institutions to hand over personal information belonging to people who claim benefits from the state.
“It will force banks to monitor all bank accounts. It’s unreal,” she added.
It added that proposed powers would “do away with the long-standing democratic principle in Britain that state surveillance should follow suspicion rather than vice versa.”
“It would be dangerous for everyone if the government reverses this presumption of innocence. This level of financial intrusion and monitoring affecting millions of people is highly likely to result in serious mistakes and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent,” it said.
‘Data Could Easily be Misinterpreted’The digital rights campaigning organisation Open Rights Group (ORG) said that the proposals will “remove safeguards and accountability for requesting financial data from institutions” and called it “welfare surveillance.”
They say that the DWP would be “allowed to bypass the safeguards enshrined” in UK data protection law and gain access to UK residents’ bank accounts arbitrarily.
“It could lead to some of the most vulnerable people facing unjust accusations of fraud, and potentially having their benefits removed and their lives destroyed,” he said.
“This is not just a hypothetical risk. In 2021 the Dutch government resigned amid an escalating scandal over child benefits in which more than 20,000 families were wrongly accused of fraud by the tax authority,” he added.
The Epoch Times contacted the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Department for Work and Pensions for comment.