NZ data chief and Facebook critic tipped to lead ICO

john edwards 2Fears that the new Information Commissioner could be little more than a Government patsy, brought in to water down data laws, have been partly assuaged by claims that New Zealand’s privacy chief is the leading candidate for the role.

With current Commissioner Elizabeth Denham due to step down later this year, some had suggested that Tory peer Baroness Harding might be being lined up but The Sunday Times reports New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner John Edwards – who has held the role for over seven years – is the preferred candidate to succeed Denham.

The barrister and solicitor has worked in a number of government roles, including as legal counsel for the Families Commission, and spent 20 years providing advice, training and advocacy in all aspects of public law, with a particular emphasis on information law from 1993. He took on the role leading the New Zealand Office of the Privacy Commission in 2014.

During this time, Edwards has been an outspoken critic of social media, and deleted his own Facebook account, claiming the company had breached privacy rights in the country.

Following the 2019 attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, which was livestreamed on the platform, he reportedly took to Twitter to blast: “They (Facebook) are morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide (Myanmar), facilitate foreign undermining of democratic institutions.

“They allow the live-streaming of suicides, rapes, and murders, continue to host the mosque attack video, allow advertisers to target ‘Jew haters’ and other hateful market segments, and refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm.”

Even so, the Office of the Privacy Commission did not take any serious enforcement action against Facebook and Edwards subsequently deleted the posts, saying he had fuelled “toxic and misinformed traffic”.

According to The Sunday Times, an independent panel has selected Edwards as the preferred candidate for the UK job and he has been recommended for the role by the Minister of Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) Oliver Dowden. The appointment is awaiting the approval of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and also final, ceremonial, approval by The Queen.

If he does get the nod, it will be a big step up from his current post. The New Zealand regulator has just 34 staff, including five who are part-time, and a budget of about £3m. The ICO, meanwhile, has a staff of approximately 750, and budget of nearly £48m.

DCMS declined to comment.

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