The Government has been accused of seeking a new Information Commissioner who will be a ministerial stooge and reduce privacy protections rather than a regulator who will enforce the law, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has warned.
The letter is in response to the recruitment ad posted by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture & Sport which seeks a successor to current incumbent Elizabeth Denham, whose often controversial five-year term comes to an end later this year.
Organised by the Open Rights Group, the missive is signed by 29 MPs and peers, including Chris Bryant, Dame Margaret Hodge, Caroline Lucas, and Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb and Diane Abbott.
It states: “We are writing as MPs concerned about the appointment process for the incoming ICO, which we believe may compromise their independence, as it appears to ask for a candidate whose regulatory thinking matches that of the Government, rather than one who possesses the skills necessary to regulate.”
The letter goes on to say that the “advert makes extensive mention of the need for the Information Commissioner to align with the goals of the National Data Strategy, which the advert says include removing barriers to commercial use of data and balancing rights with growth”.
It adds: “The impression has been made that DCMS seeks a Commissioner that will work to remove protections within current laws, to reduce the risks of enforcement action, and rather than guarantee the rights of individuals, will seek to ‘balance’ rights against concerns such as ‘regulatory certainty’ and economic growth.
“That is, DCMS is seeking an Information Commissioner whose policy views match its own, rather than a regulator that will seek to enforce the law as Parliament has written it.”
The letter concludes: “We call on you, today, to halt the recruitment process and restart it, removing recruitment criteria pertaining to matters of policy that are outside of the remit of this statutory regulator, and include criteria that allow candidates to demonstrate they are able to do the job, in particular, regulatory and data protection enforcement experience.”
The Open Rights Group insists the next commissioner “can make or break Britain’s commitment to strong data rights” and maintains the UK must “ensure a corporate imposter is not chosen”.
Executive director Jim Killock added: “The next ICO commissioner is dead on arrival. The lack of confidence expressed from across the political spectrum in the appointment process of a regulator is unprecedented and undermines the credibility of the new commissioner.”
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