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Information Commissioner expresses concern at risk to regulatory independence from data reforms

Outgoing UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has called on the Government to rethink plans that she fears would comprise the independence of the Information Commissioner’s Office.

In her response to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport consultation on the future of data regulation, Ms Denham said she broadly supported reform proposals but said: “There are some important specific proposals where I have strong concerns because of their risk to regulatory independence.

“For the future ICO to be able to hold government to account, it is vital its governance model preserves its independence and is workable, within the context of the framework set by Parliament and with effective accountability.

“The current proposals for the Secretary of State to approve ICO guidance and to appoint the chief executive officer do not sufficiently safeguard this independence.

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“I urge Government to reconsider these proposals to ensure the independence of the regulator is preserved.”

Ms Denham welcomed other measures proposed which she said should be within a “legislative framework with people at its heart and I am pleased to see the consultation recognise the importance of maintaining and building public trust”.

She added: “It is crucial we continue to see the opportunities of digital innovation and the maintaining of high data protection standards as joint drivers of economic growth. "Innovation is enabled, not threatened, by high data protection standards.”

It would be vital that as innovation developed “the inevitable regulatory and administrative obligations of legal compliance are proportionate to the risk an organisation's data processing activities represent.

"That means finding proportionate ways for organisations to demonstrate their accountability for how they collect, store, use and share our data. They must ensure data is safe and is not used in ways that might cause harm. And they must ensure that all people are able to exercise rights over their personal data.”

When it launched the consultation, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the Government wanted the new data regime to be “based on common sense, not box ticking”

New Zealand Privacy Commissioner John Edwards has  been unveiled as the Government’s preferred candidate to be the UK’s next Information Commissioner.

Mark Smulian

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