Watchdog raises data privacy issues
The way government uses and stores personal data is "deeply flawed", the Equality and Human Rights Commission said.
Current privacy law is not doing enough to stop breaches of personal data, a report published by the Commission found.
A spokeswoman said that breaches in privacy are likely to "get worse in the future" as demand for personal information increases and as new technology is developed for collecting, storing and sharing data.
The report, titled Protecting Information Privacy, suggests it is difficult for members of the public to know what information is held on them by the Government, and its agencies or private bodies.
It said that it can be hard to hold anyone to account for errors in the personal data held or its misuse.
The Commission has recommended that the Government makes the current legislation simpler to understand for organisations and members of the public.
It said public bodies and others have to properly justify why they need someone's personal data and for what purpose. Any requirement to use personal data for any reason other than for which it was collected should go through a vetting process, the Commission recommended.
In November 2007, HM Revenue and Customs admitted it had lost a computer disc containing the child benefit records of more than 25 million people. A month later, the Government disclosed that a computer hard drive containing the personal details of three million UK learner drivers had also gone missing in the United States.
Geraldine Van Bueren, a commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "It's important that the Government and its agencies have the information they need about us to do their job, for example to fight crime, or protect our health. However, the state is holding increasing amounts of information about our lives without us knowing, being able to check that it's accurate or being able to challenge this effectively.
"This needs to change so that any need for personal information has to be clearly justified by the organisation that wants it. The law and regulatory framework needs to be simplified and in the meantime public authorities need to check what data they have and that it complies with the existing laws."