ICO appoints ethics lead

Regulator recruits former BP exec Ellis Parry in newly created role

Credit: Alpha Stock Images/Nick Youngson/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Information Commissioner’s Office has appointed its first ever data ethics adviser to help the organisation better contribute to public debate on the topic.

Ellis Parry, who was formerly global data privacy head at BP, has joined the regulator with a brief to help the ICO “understand how our world interacts with that of philosophy and ethics”, according to a blog post from the watchdog’s executive director for technology policy and innovation Simon McDougall.

“His brief is not to establish a large data ethics function at the ICO – this is a vibrant area for debate and exploration, but it does not follow that the ICO seek to ‘own’ it,” McDougall added. “Ellis will help ensure that the ICO contributes to data ethics discussions in a way that meets the aims of our Information Rights Strategic Plan, and in doing so helps to uphold information rights in the UK.”

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The technology policy chief said that, amid growing public concern about the ethics of using personal data, many people now look to the regulator to clarify what laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation say on the matter.

“The reality, as always, is somewhat more complex,” McDougall said. “The GDPR is a principle-based law. That is its great strength. It sets out general rules, which can then be applied to a range of situations, whether that’s how a local running club looks after members’ contact details, or how big data can be used in health research. It means the law can continue to be relevant, even as technologies are developed that weren’t even thought of when the law was being drafted.”

He added: “Interpretation of that law is complex though, and increasingly we see broad ethical questions being raised around how data is being used. There is debate around when data protection and data ethics overlap, where they are separate, and where they may even conflict.”

Parry will spend the next 12 months examining and engaging in that debate.

“It promises to be an interesting year,” McDougall concluded.


Sam Trendall

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