ICO requires “stronger powers” and “a clearer guarantee of independence”

UK Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has warned it has never been more important that the general public has an independent regulator overseeing the handling of people’s personal data.

Speaking at the launch of the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) Annual Report earlier today, Christopher Graham highlighted how the troubled launch of care.data, Facebook’s research and the so-called Google ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling show why there’s a need to have an independent regulator.

Christopher Graham: the Information Commissioner

Christopher Graham: the Information Commissioner

Graham also warned that independence relies on strong powers and sustainable funding.

The Annual Report shows that the ICO responded to a record number of data protection and Freedom of Information complaints this year.

Sometimes the State is the issue

“Facebook, care.data, Google: it’s clear that organisations’ use of data is getting ever more complicated,” stressed Graham. “People need to know someone is watching over their information. That someone needs to be independent of Government and business so the public know the regulator can be trusted. Sometimes the State is itself the issue. When the Intelligence and Security Committee wanted to know how the Snowden revelations fitted with data protection law, it turned to the Information Commissioner.”

Graham added: “Independence means someone who has the resources to take on this ever-growing number of cases. The last twelve months have witnessed a record – more complaints resolved than ever, more enforcement action taken and more advice given through our Helpline. It also means having the powers to act on the more serious complaints. A strong regulator is needed if a data breach affects millions of people.”

In conclusion, the Information Commissioner explained: “That someone is the Information Commissioner. We’re effective, efficient and busier than ever but, to do our job properly and to represent people properly, we need stronger powers, more sustainable funding and a clearer guarantee of independence.”

The report’s figures in detail

This year’s Annual Report shows that the ICO has handled 259,903 calls to its Helpline and resolved 15,492 data protection complaints – in both cases a rise of over 10% on the previous financial year.

The ICO has also decided on 5,296 Freedom of Information complaints (a 12% rise on last year’s figure), and received 161,720 reports from people concerned about spam texts and nuisance calls.

For the past five years the ICO has faced a reduction in its funding for FOI, while the proposed EU data protection reforms would remove the notification fee that funds the ICO’s work under the Data Protection Act.

The ICO’s written submission to the Intelligence and Security Committee in February is now available.

The Information Commissioner will appear before the Intelligence and Security Committee in the autumn.

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