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Straw grants ICO half its wish list

Some new powers but not enough

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More than a year after the government lost the discs containing the UK's entire child benefit database Jack Straw is offering to increase the funding and powers of the Information Commissioner's Office.

The ICO wanted powers to investigate any organisation it suspected of failing to follow data protection principles. Straw is offering to let them probe public organisations but not private companies.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas welcomed new power to inspect public bodies but said: "We would have preferred to have this power to undertake audits extended to private sector organisations as well. "

Back in December 2007 Richard Thomas asked for stronger powers and better funding. He suggested private companies include a data protection statement in their annual reports so it would be signed off by chief executives. He also asked for a new criminal offence to be created.

Thomas also questioned whether the broad thrust of the government's data sharing policy really took privacy seriously.

The ICO is funded by charging organisations £35 to register data controllers - this fee is the same whether you are a huge government department or an individual holding a handful of people's details. Instead there will be a sliding scale of charges for different organisations going up to a maximum of £1,000. Some smaller firms will be exempt from charges.

This increase will give the ICO annual funding of around £16m compared to its current budget of £10m.

Meanwhile the government continues to lose data, albeit not on the scale of the HMRC's massive giveaway. It emerged yesterday that the MoD had lost 200 devices in the last year. Staff have lost 59 memory sticks, 62 laptops, 4 desktop computers and impressively 72 hard drives. Meanwhile thieves have made off with 6 memory sticks, 58 laptops, 8 desktops and 2 hard drives. ®

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