The UK has officially kicked off the search for a new Information Commissioner to succeed Elizabeth Denham, whose often controversial five-year term comes to an end later this year.
Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, has already asked Denham to extend her term of office by three months, ending on October 31 2021, while the recruitment process for her successor is completed.
This would suggest that Denham’s time is up and her tenure will not be extended further, unlike her predecessor, Christopher Graham, who remained Commissioner for a total of seven years.
However, nothing is written in stone and if a replacement cannot be found in time, the Government would have little choice but to extend her contract further.
Even so, her tenure has not been without its controversy. From her handling of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal to the protracted investigation into adtech and the lengthy delays in GDPR cases against British Airways and Marriott International, the critics have been keen to get the boot in.
The past 12 months have been particularly challenging. In August, a cross-party group of MPs slammed Denham for failing to bring the Government to book over the botched handling of the Covid-19 test and trace programme. At the time, Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper said in a statement: “The public needs a data regulator with teeth. The ICO must stop sitting on its hands and start using its powers – to assess what needs to change and enforce those changes – to ensure that the government is using people’s data safely and legally.”
Meanwhile, the regulator was also branded “pathetic” and “weak” for failing to intervene in last summer’s row over the algorithm marking system used to award A-level grades, while questions were raised about Denham’s commitment to the job after it emerged she had been living in Canada while the UK was in the first Covid lockdown.
Then came its annual report, which revealed a huge rise in expenses, including trips abroad, travel and entertainment; a lack of action against nuisance calls; and the fact that fewer than 1% of its investigations had led to a monetary penalty.
Even so, in a blog post setting out this year’s ICO agenda, an upbeat Denham said: “As you’ll be aware, 2021 marks the end of my five year term as Information Commissioner. My term was scheduled to end in July but following a request from the Secretary of State for DCMS, I have agreed to extend it until the end of October, while the recruitment process for my successor is completed. Information rights have never been more important or impactful, and I’m excited to be leading the ICO’s continued good work into 2021.”
MPs join calls for ICO to act over test and trace cock-up
Denham works from home; 4,500 miles away in Canada
ICO whacked for ‘pathetic’ response to A-level outrage
Fresh delay to Marriott and BA fines fuels ICO criticism
Will it ever end? Now Marriott wins further GDPR delay
DMA recoils at plan to hand out Covid data to councils
Privacy groups hit out at fresh delay to adtech probe
ICO strikes back at claims it has shut down all cases
ICO reveals fewer than 1% of investigations led to a fine
‘Chicken’ ICO kicks adtech investigation into long grass
Canadian to take over as Information Commissioner