CBI: eBusiness, Data Protection and ID Cards

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The CBI's eBusiness Group claims to work towards building UK competitiveness in the economy by ensuring that the UK government and international bodies that set policy and regulatory frameworks in the new economy understand the potential and needs of UK businesses. The Group works to its objectives by running an e-Business Council drawn from CBI members in all sectors to provide a voice for business as a whole,and is therefore authoritative with Government, the media and the business world.[1] The CBI e-Business Council’s aim is to identify ways in which electronic forms of business can help companies to innovate, raise productivity, increase competitiveness and gain higher value from product and service offerings. The council brings together people committed to building UK innovation, growth and economic competitiveness from a wide range of different sectors including executives from telecoms, IT, media and service integrator suppliers; as well as Government policymakers.[2]

The e-Business Group's main audiences and partners are:

through the Business Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC)[4]

The CBI's eBusiness Group and BIAC's policy group on Information, Computer and Communications (ICCP) consult on consumer policy, IT Security and privacy telecommunications. One of the Vice Chairs of the ICCP is Jeremy Beale

ID Cards

Business leaders are backing ID cards despite having concerns about the details of government proposals on the issue. The CBI says the cards could help in combating fraud and bring social and economic benefits for business and individuals. It is concerned however that companies will be left to "carry the can" if information on cards is wrong.

CBI deputy director-general John Cridland insists:

Companies want ID cards to be a universal identity-authentication system. But they are concerned the government has not appreciated the dangers of driving through a vague and insufficiently thought-out plan.[5]

The Home Office wants ID cards carrying biometric data, such as fingerprints and iris scans, made compulsory by 2013.

However Jeremy Beale, head of e-business policy at the CBI thinks:

“Greater clarity on the functionality is needed. At the moment, there is no way of knowing how much biometric information will be included in the system and how much interoperability there will be with existing private sector identity management systems.”[6]

But he believes that once firms have this information and a clear timeline for the scheme they can start planning their own ID management projects. The CBI is encouraging the government to sell the idea of ID cards as more than a reaction to terrorism, but as an opportunity to help the public. That way we won't feel as if we're in a 'Big Brother society'.[7]

Data Protection

In 2007, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) received 24,000 enquiries and complaints about personal information. It found that a breach had occurred in 35% of cases from a number of firms and government departments. This prompted a call from the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, for greater powers to check on how companies protect personnel data. According to Thomas:

My message to those at the top of organisations is to respect the privacy of individuals and the integrity of the information held about them. We have seen far too many careless and inexcusable breaches.[8]

The CBI however rejected his message, with the head of e-business policy Jeremy Beale insisting:

By calling for the ability to inspect firms' files without consent, the information commissioner is in danger of leading businesses into the very surveillance society he [has warned against].[9]

The Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for overseeing the ICO, is siding with businesses. It claims that the commissioner already has adequate powers.

The CBI also took the timely opportunity to slam the government for its own record on data protection. In December 2007, chancellor Alistair Darling revealed that HM Revenue & Customs had lost two discs containing the personal details of 25 million child benefit claimants, while while pressure grew to allow Information Commissioner Richard Thomas to spot check employers' data security procedures without prior consent.

Susan Anderson, director of HR policy at CBI, indulged in a bit of mudslinging:

Let's look at the public sector before we look at the private sector. What is the point in carrying out data inspections on the CBI? We hardly hold 25 million records.[10]


  1. CBI[1] CBI, Saturday February 23 2008
  2. CBI[2] CBI, Saturday August 23 2008
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. BBC[5] BBC News, Friday August 13 2004
  6. BBC[6] BBC News, Friday August 13 2004
  7. Computing Careers[7] Computing Careers, August 19 2004
  8. Personnel Today[8] Personnel Today, July 16 2007
  9. Personnel Today[9] Personnel Today, July 16 2007
  10. Personnel Today[10] Personnel Today, December 4 2007