ICO courts industry as John Edwards takes the reins

john edwards 2The Information Commissioner’s Office is kicking off new Commissioner John Edwards’ regime by launching a consultation on how it enforces data protection laws, from UK GDPR to PECR, as a prelude to Government plans for one of the biggest overhauls of privacy regulations for years.

Covering 11 pieces of legislation the ICO polices, the consultation comprises three draft documents, and is “designed to give direction and focus to the organisation”, although former Commissioner Elizabeth Denham – who left in December – might argue that the ICO has always been “focused”.

According to the ICO, a Regulatory Action Policy reinforces the commitment to a “proportionate and risk-based approach to enforcement” and is aimed at helping to “create an environment that protects data subjects and supports access to information, while ensuring that businesses, charities and public services are able to operate and innovate efficiently in the digital age”.

ICO chief regulatory officer James Dipple-Johnstone said: “Information rights have never been more important or impactful. Now more than ever, we support innovation and economic growth, but both require the public to have trust in the way their personal information is used. We are focused on promoting best practice and compliance but, where it is necessary, we will exercise a fair and proportionate approach to enforcement action.”

Although the documents cover the existing law, including the Freedom of Information Act, there is an emphasis on innovation and economic growth in the digital age; one of the key tenets of the Government’s data reforms, also in the pipeline.

The Whitehall plans, revealed in August last year, include structural changes to the ICO, a fresh clampdown on nuisance calls, an overhaul of the so-called cookie law, and a relaxation of accountability measures, all of which have raised the hackles of many.

The ICO consultation runs until March 24 and comes as former New Zealand privacy chief John Edwards begins a five-year term as UK Information Commissioner, trousering an annual salary of £200,000.

On taking up the role, Edwards said: “Privacy is a right not a privilege. In a world where our personal data can drive everything from the healthcare we receive to the job opportunities we see, we all deserve to have our data treated with respect.

“My role is to work with those to whom we entrust our data so they are able to respect our privacy with ease whilst still reaping the benefits of data-driven innovation. I also want to empower people to understand and influence how they want their data to be used, and to make it easy for people to access remedies if things go wrong.

“I know from experience that the team at the ICO are entirely dedicated to privacy and information rights, and to supporting organisations and consumers alike. The ICO has an international reputation for forward thinking and clear assessment of the practicalities of the law, which I will continue to promote. And I know too of the active data protection community in the UK – I look forward to hearing the experiences of businesses, the public sector, civil society and the privacy community.

“I welcome the opportunity to oversee the crucial Freedom of Information Act. Transparency that helps people understand and trust decisions made on their behalf has perhaps never been as relevant as across the past two years. I look forward to ensuring the law continues to be relevant in our changing world.”

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