Canuck named as next UK privacy watchdog

Elizabeth Denham to take over in the summer as Information Commissioner

Canadian Elizabeth Denham has been named as the UK's next Information Commissioner.

Following a confirmation hearing by a parliamentary select committee, she will take over the post from Christopher Graham, who has been in the role since 2009, sometime this summer.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale confirmed that Denham was the government's "preferred candidate" for the role, citing her "wealth of knowledge and experience."

She has been British Columbia's information and privacy commissioner for six years and before that was the assistant privacy commissioner for Canada.

Denham has won plaudits in her time in Canada, and notably took on Facebook and its privacy policies. In 2009, she wrote a damning report about Facebook's policies, saying: "I find that Facebook does not have adequate safeguards in place to prevent unauthorized access to users' personal information by application developers, and is thus in contravention of the law."

When Facebook made changes in response, she still wasn't happy and picked them up on it a second time.

Tough

In her role as the UK's Information Commissioner, she is likely to face even bigger foes in the form of the government itself. The Conservative government is determinedly pushing forward the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would give the authorities controversial powers over data collection and usage.

Parliament is currently fighting over what safeguards need to be in place to protect people's privacy in that new environment. It is a virtual certainty that the Information Commissioner will play a key role in defining exactly where those lines lie in reality once the law is passed. In short, it is not a job for the weak-hearted.

Of her confirmation, she said: "I am honoured to be nominated ... I believe the rapid pace of technological change we face will continue to accelerate and present challenges to information rights – we must ensure access to information while maintaining high standards of data protection. The Information Commissioner's Office has a global reputation for practical, innovative and responsive regulation. I look forward to contributing to this work."

Denham will be the UK's fifth Information Commissioner, following Eric Howe who held the job for 10 years starting in 1984. Elizabeth France then held it for eight years until 2002; then Richard Thomas for seven years; then Christopher Graham, also for seven years.

That means Brits will likely be relying on Denham to protect their information until 2023. ®

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