Feeds

ICO to focus on reducing risk, not enforcement

'We have to be selective with our interventions'

The Power of One Infographic

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said that its aim is to protect people from the risks associated with abuses of their personal data rather than strictly enforce the law. It has announced its broad aims in a new strategy document (pdf).

The document will guide its activities overall, prioritising the use of its resources which it said were not sufficient to do everything it could in the data protection arena.

"Being a strategic regulator means that, in so far as we have a choice, we have to be selective with our interventions," said the strategy document. "We will therefore apply our limited resources in ways that deliver the maximum return in terms of a sustained reduction in data protection risk. That is the risk of harm through improper use of personal information."

The ICO said it would concentrate more on the avoidance of this risk than strict enforcement of the law. "We are not seeking compliance with the law as an end in itself," it said. "Making our vision a reality means minimising data protection risk for individuals and society. The law is the main tool we have at our disposal to achieve this, but we go further and promote good practice.

"We cannot address all areas of data protection risk equally, nor should we attempt to do so."

The ICO identified a number of areas in which it will concentrate its attentions. These include fighting the unlawful trade in personal information, battling the increasing surveillance of UK residents, monitoring increasing information sharing between organisations and undertaking data protection supervision.

"One consequence of our approach is the likelihood that we will need to devote proportionately more of our policy work to developments in the public sector than to developments in the private sector," it said. "This is a recognition of where the most serious data protection risks can arise."

The ICO said it would try to prioritise, but that some judgments involved a degree of subjectivity.

"We will give priority to tackling situations where there is a real likelihood of serious harm to individuals or society. The necessary judgements especially about seriousness are not always easy. Loss of privacy can qualify as a harm in its own right, but there are difficult issues of objectivity and subjectivity. Some individuals value their privacy more than others. Our approach will be as objective as possible."

The ICO has consistently argued for more resources and greater powers. Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has warned that the UK is becoming a surveillance society and has said he needs more staff to tackle the problems of privacy and data protection.

Thomas submitted a proposal to Government in January of this year asking for a new offence to be created of recklessly or knowingly breaching data protection principles, which would be punishable by unlimited fines.

He also asked for the power to put an immediate stop to data processing by any organisation that he thought was "seriously unlawful".

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.