The Information Commissioner’s Office has used the launch of its annual report to stress the importance of data protection after the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
Separation anxiety: ICO concerned for data protection reform – Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
The 2015-16 report, published yesterday, highlighted political uncertainty and changes relating to Brexit as major issues of concern for the next year.
Christopher Graham, who completed his seven-year term as information commissioner yesterday, said that the data regulation watchdog was currently in discussions with government about the implications of Brexit on data protection reform in the UK.
The EU is currently developing a reformed data protection regulation, which the UK is working to comply with, but Graham stressed that these reforms would need to continue despite the UK’s exit from the union.
“Having clear laws with safeguards in place is more important than ever given the growing digital economy, and we will be speaking to government to present our view that reform of the UK law remains necessary,” he said.
He added that the ICO was not stopping its international work. “The ICO’s role has always involved working closely with regulators in other countries, and that will continue to be the case.”
Another area of concern is the switch in management at the ICO, although Graham said there had been “universal approval” of the appointment of Elizabeth Denham – information commissioner for British Columbia – as his replacement.
Local government complaints fall
According to the report, the ICO received more data protection concerns in 2015-16 than the previous year – but fewer of these were related to local government.
Of a total 16,300 concerns – down from 14,239 in 2014-15 – 10% were related to local government, down from 11% in the previous year.
Central government remained steady at 5% of concerns, while health generated the most concerns at 12%, up from 10% in 2014-15.
Meanwhile, there was also an increase in complaints about access to information from public bodies, mainly through the Freedom of Information Act, but again the proportion of these related to local government fell.
In 2015-16, 40% of the complaints related to FOIs were about local government, down from 46% in 2014-15. For central government, this fell from 18% to 17%.
Shift to DCMS
The report said that many of the short-term financial risks faced by the body at the start of the year have been removed.
This, it said, was down to increases in data protection registration fee income and a three-year financial settlement for grant-in-aid with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The report stated that the grant had already been included in the DCMS’s estimate for 2016-17, and “there is no reason to believe that future sponsorship and parliamentary approval will not be forthcoming”.
DCMS has only been sponsoring the ICO since September 2015, a move that came after the government’s decision to shift digital-related work into DCMS.
Although a management agreement between the ICO and DCMS has not yet been finalised, the report said it was following similar rules to those established with the former sponsor, the Ministry of Justice.
The report deemed the shift to have been a positive move, saying “changes that might have been disruptive have in fact gone well”.
Meanwhile, the ICO said it had “not been standing still” in terms of how to improve its service delivery.
It has begun three major work programmes to improve core business applications, review and update infrastructure and to introduce better communication systems, and had increased its mobile working capability for staff who are frequently out of the office.