Conservative Anti-Surveillance Plans Will Boost ICO

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Conservative plans to curb government misuse of data in the UK will include a big boost to the powers of the Information Commissioner

The Conservative Party’s plans to increase privacy and reduce the amount of government data will involve a big increase in the powers of the Information Commissioner, a London meeting heard today.

“Our personal data belongs to us, and the government holds it on trust,” said Eleanor Laing, MP, the shadow Minister for Justice, speaking at a Westminster Legal Policy Forum meeting in London. She echoed the eleven-point plan laid out by Dominic Grieve in September 2009, which includes the dumping of Labour plans for identity cards.

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Laing emphasised that these are promises to be carried out by a future Conservative government, but asked the attendees to advise her if any of them are impractical.

The Conservatives would have fewer government databases and give citizens control of their data, she said, and to keep governments in line would make the Information Commisisoner’s Office (ICO) independent and give it greater audit powers over government departments.

Under Conservative plans, the commissioner would be appointed by Parliament, not the government, and would audit every department on an annual rotating basis.

The speech followed a conference which contained some criticism of the ICO and the ability of Parliament to handle issues as technical as privacy and data protection. One delegate pointed out that the ICO contains 200 people, none of whom has any post-graduate IT security qualification.

Proposals to reduce surveillance struck a chord with several people who pointed out that the government’s Interception Modernisation Programme could be seen as a license for dynamic surveillance of the population.

However, plans to build up the ICO seemed to some to be a marked contrast to the Conservative’s approach in other areas, for instance in plans to abolish the communications regulator, Ofcom