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UK.gov considers tougher powers for ICO (again)

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The government has announced yet another round of deliberations on whether the Information Commissioner should get tougher powers, as part of a wider consideration of data protection legislation.

The Ministry of Justice today called for views on custodial sentences for data protection offences, a measure which the previous government announced and then abandoned twice. This latest consultation follows a threat of legal action against the UK government by the European Commission over the Information Commissioner's "insufficient powers".

Justice minister Lord McNally said UK legislation also needed to be looked at ahead of a round of negotiations for an updated EU data protection instrument, expected to begin early next year. The current Data Protection Act came into law in 1998.

"We want to gather evidence and views on whether the current data protection laws are working in light of social and technological changes since the mid-1990s," he said.

"As individuals, citizens and consumers, we have the right to know our data is properly protected, and the Government is keen to gather evidence about how helpful the existing legislation is, as well as ideas on how the current data protection regime can be improved."

The call for evidence is here, and submissions close on 6 October.

The current Information Commissioner Christopher Graham lobbied hard for sentences to be toughened last year, but was frustrated in the run-up to the election. The European Commission also said the powers of UK courts to refuse data subjects the chance to have files corrected or erased infringe rights.

As well as threatening the UK over its implementation of data protection, the European Commission has also criticised its implementation of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. The government remains on its final warning to tighten the law following the outcry over BT's covert trials of Phorm's behavioural advertising system. ®

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