Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 263171
Loughborough University

Loughborough University Institutional Repository

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/5055

Title: Data sharing and personal privacy in contemporary public services: the social dynamics of ethical decision making
Authors: Bellamy, Christine
6, Perri
Raab, Charles
Warren, Adam P.
Heeney, Catherine
Issue Date: 2005
Citation: BELLAMY, C. ... et al, 2005. Data sharing and personal privacy in contemporary public services: the social dynamics of ethical decision making. Paper presented to Working Group 6 at: Annual Conference of the European Group of Public Administration (EGPA), University of Berne, Switzerland, 31 August – 3 September 2005
Abstract: Amongst some of the most important and interesting ethical dilemmas facing street level bureaucrats in contemporary public services are those arising from conflicting imperatives in the use of personal data. On the one hand, public services are coming under pressure to retain and share more data about identifiable individuals, in order better to deal with their problems or to protect communities against the risks they pose. This pressure appears to conflict – at least to some degree - with confidentiality norms embedded in the codes of practice of public service professions as well as with privacy laws stemming from the European Data Protection Directive and the European Convention of Human Rights. Furthermore, the ethical dilemmas associated with these conflicting imperatives may be growing more acute, as a result of changes in the political and social environment in which public servants work. Firstly, there is a widespread perception that information and communication technologies can support the extensive networking of public service data systems: this perception is giving rise to pressures to achieve service improvements and cost savings associated with the pooling, re-use and exchange of personal data. Secondly, there is a growing view that many of problems experienced by individuals, families and very small neighbourhoods can best be addressed by multi-agency interventions: this view implies that agencies will share data about these individuals, families and neighbourhoods to a greater degree than hitherto. Thirdly, growing pressures on public services associated the influence of communitarian ideas about the management of risks may be leading to tendencies to favour the public good over individual rights, especially in such fields as policing, child protection, mental health and public health. If so, we would expect these pressures to lower thresholds for sharing personal data between agencies. This paper presents some provisional findings from a major research project funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. The project has collected qualitative data from over 200 interviews with street level professional workers, managers and information systems managers in 12 cases of local multi-agency arrangements (MAAs) in England and Scotland. The data presented in the present paper is from the 8 English cases, comprising 138 interviews. These cases were chosen from four policy fields, namely: • health and social care for the elderly • health and social care for the mentally ill • public protection arrangements managing risks associated with violent criminals and sex offenders; and, • crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which include organisations concerned with planning interventions against prolific offenders, domestic violence and drug-related crime. These fields have been chosen, for two main reasons. First, in all of these fields, decisions about what data to share, when to share them, who to share them with and how to interpret them and use them involve serious risks: the decisions made by individual workers may result in the abuse or death of a child, the loss of parole for a prisoner, the stigmatisation of a family or the refusal of employment for a job applicant. Decision-making in these field