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Upcoming Data Reform Bill "to give Parliament and Government greater oversight" of Information Commissioner's Office

The Government has set out plans to reform the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) that will give Parliament and the Secretary of State greater oversight of the data regulator and broaden the legal responsibility underpinning its work.

According to a Government response to the consultation on the upcoming Data Reform Bill, the reforms to the ICO will transform the management structure of the regulator by implementing a chair, chief executive and a board.

"The change will introduce a wider set of skills to support robust decision-making and broaden the legal responsibility underpinning the ICO's work, which currently sits solely with the role of Information Commissioner," the announcement added.

In addition, the Data Reform Bill will aim to give Parliament and the public better ability to hold the regulator to account. As part of this, clearer objectives will be introduced to help the ICO prioritise its activities, and a "more modern governance framework will better equip the ICO to fulfil its role and bring it in line with the best practice of other regulators".

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Strategic objectives will be set out in the Bill, which will underline the importance of the regulator continuing to uphold data rights and encouraging the responsible use of personal data, but will have greater emphasis on taking into account growth, innovation and competition, the Government said.

The reforms will also introduce a new way for how the ICO develops statutory codes and guidance, which share best practices for organisations using, sharing or storing personal data in specific instances, such as protecting children's data online.

The ICO will be required to set up a panel of experts in relevant fields when developing each piece of statutory guidance. The Secretary of State will also need to approve ICO statutory codes and guidance before they are presented to Parliament.

"This will bring the ICO in line with other UK regulators, such as the Electoral Commission and strengthen the accountability of the privacy watchdog when it makes legal rules," the announcement added.

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said he shares and supports the ambition of the reforms, adding that: "I am pleased to see the government has taken our concerns about independence on board. Data protection law needs to give people confidence to share their information to use the products and services that power our economy and society. The proposed changes will ensure my office can continue to operate as a trusted, fair and impartial regulator, and enable us to be more flexible and target our action in response to the greatest harms.

"We look forward to continuing to work constructively with the government as the proposals are progressed and will continue to monitor how these reforms are expressed in the Bill."

Adam Carey

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