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Information rights in the spotlight

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has announced its corporate plan for the next three years (2013-16) and information rights is very much in the spotlight.

Speaking at the annual Data Protection Officer Conference in Manchester the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, explained that the data protection and freedom of information legislation plays a key role in relation to so many activities which individuals carry out on a daily basis in their lives. As information rights takes centre stage, the ICO is determined to stay alert and relevant.

Highlights of the ICO's 2013-16 plan

  • Launch a new website in the summer of 2014, which will be more user-friendly and intuitive
  • Modernise the ICO's systems for notifying under the Data Protection Act to make it easier for data controllers to register
  • Simplify its guidance to make it more accessible, along the lines of the draft subject access code of practice
  • Work with regulators at home and abroad to enforce effectively and share good practice
  • Enforcing the law in respect of telemarketing, spam text messages, and cookies, as demonstrated by the recent £90,000 penalty notice to Glasgow-based firm DM Design. The ICO expects to see a reduction in complaints to the Telephone Preference Service about organisations against which it has taken enforcement action.

ICO policy challenges
The ICO faces a number of policy challenges that will put it even more at the centre of developments:

1) The Draft EU Data Protection Regulation, currently going through the European legislative process. (Read more about this in our latest Data Protection Regulation update.)

2) The Government’s proposals for changes to the freedom of information legislation following the review into how the legislation is working in practice.

3) Lord Justice Leveson's proposal to change the corporate structure of the ICO. At present, the Information Commissioner holds the ultimate power at the ICO. One suggestion is for a board of commissioners to share this power. The Commons Justice Select Committee stated in its recent report, that it is satisfied with the current corporate structure of the ICO but believes that the Information Commissioner should become directly responsible to and funded by Parliament to give greater independence from Government. Leveson's other proposals include changes in data protection law as it applies to the media.

4) Extend the ICO's activities beyond what it was originally set up to do to include the Government’s plan to be more transparent and to make more of the information which it collects and holds publically available. This includes initiatives such as the Midata project, which requires companies in certain sectors to make billing information available to customers in a portable format so they can make better purchasing decisions.

5) Funding issues: The ICO, like all Government organisations, is being asked to do more work with less money. However, there is a problem in that the current draft of the Regulation would remove the ICO’s funding for data protection work through the notification fee. The Commons Justice Select Committee comments in its recent report (see above) that unless the Government can find a replacement for the notification fee, the taxpayer will have to pay for the £42m shortfall in the ICO budget.

Strategic review
The ICO will also start a detailed strategic review later this year by talking to the key organisations it deals with followed by an extensive public consultation in the autumn. The final version of the ICO plan 2013-16 follows a consultation exercise earlier in the year to which the DMA responded. The DMA will keep members updated of developments through this newsletter.

James Milligan, Solicitor, DMA

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