Feeds

Info Commissioner admits 'It's going to be tough'

Improving FoI compliance - with extreme prejudice

High performance access to file storage

Information commissioner Christopher Graham says his organisation has sent out a 'shock wave' to improve FoI compliance.

Admittedly the weather forecast is poor, but thunder, lightning and torrential rain accompanies GC's interview with the information commissioner at his Wilmslow offices. "Welcome to the north-west," says Graham. The newly refurbished building of the Information Commissioner's Office provides adequate shelter from the weather, but this is easier than avoiding the effects of the financial storm which has left public spending cuts in its wake.

"We are in line to be cut like everybody else," Graham confirms. "Now I get just over £5m for freedom of information (FoI) through grant in aid from the Ministry of Justice, and that's what stands to be cut. By how much? Well, we wait to see."

A hint of sunshine is that a second revenue stream, for data protection, is unlikely to be affected. The bulk of the commissioner's near £17m budget is generated by notification fees for data protection. Small concerns, sole traders for example, pay £35, while for large organisations this climbs to £500.

"At least it does help that we have these two streams of income," concedes Graham. "Although we have to keep them separate, there are other things that get apportioned between the two streams."

This fiscal challenge has coincided with an increase in the workload. Graham says his office has never been busier, due to its higher profile following publicity about MPs' expenses and the loss of the child benefit records. Last year saw a 20 per cent increase in FoI cases and 39 per cent more cases closed compared with the previous 12 months.

"And then, of course, there has been a change of government and suddenly information rights has shot right up the agenda," he says. "I am not making a political point. It's about the times we live in. We are now doing everything online and so people have seen all the good things that can happen because of that, but they are also aware of what can happen when it goes wrong.

"So this is a concern – information rights, people's concern about privacy and respect for personal data are very political issues. Politicians have caught up with that, as they tend to do.

He adds that this also fits in with the "political synthesis" which arises from the coalition. "This is territory on which both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives could find common ground, and I'm sure that's why it is higher up the political agenda."

But he is enthusiastic about what he sees as a coming-together of circumstances and believes his office in now in an exciting place. Furthermore, he sees himself as fortunate in being able to settle into his role before the new government "started looking in our direction and asking how we could contribute".

Graham, a former director general of the Advertising Standards Authority and BBC journalist, began his five year term in office in June 2009. Although he thinks it would be a bit of a cliché to say his first year had been a steep learning curve, he admits that the information rights agenda is complicated and there was a lot to master.

He also found that the ICO's technical expertise was largely limited to forensics. At a hearing of Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee in May he said that, although this was useful in investigations into illegal databases, he wanted more technical expertise to help "spot the next big thing before it becomes a huge problem".

Asked about progress on this, he hints at budgetary restraints: "Well, we are working out how in a period of cuts and retrenchment we can strengthen the technological know-how within the organisation."

The current intention is to have an external technology advisory group, as well as an in-house technical adviser who may want to recruit a small team of three or four people.

"I'm not going to try and invent the wheel," Graham says. "There is an awful lot of technical expertise out there, it's just that we are not always best placed to interpret it."

There was also the challenge of getting to grips with FoI processing, which he feared was in danger of grinding to a halt. A study by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, published around the time of Graham's appointment, revealed that it was taking an average of eight months before an investigation into a complaint even began. The longest delayed decision had taken nearly four years and was still going on.

Although Graham believes that it was natural for everyone involved to be cautious during the first five years of FoI, the result was an "almighty queue at the information commissioner's door".

"No, after you Claude"

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Big Content goes after Kim Dotcom
Six studios sling sueballs at dead download destination
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
Singapore decides 'three strikes' laws are too intrusive
When even a prurient island nation thinks an idea is dodgy it has problems
Banks slap Olympus with £160 MEEELLION lawsuit
Scandal hit camera maker just can't shake off its past
France bans managers from contacting workers outside business hours
«Email? Mais non ... il est plus tard que six heures du soir!»
Reprieve for Weev: Court disowns AT&T hacker's conviction
Appeals court strikes down landmark sentence
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.