ICO Asks For More Powers To Protect Our Privacy

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The ICO has investigated a record number of cases in 2013, but the watchdog wants more funding and independence to continue its work

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says its role as independent regulator is becoming more important as the number of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests and data protection complaints grows ever higher. At the same time, the organisation warns that it is losing access to the funding it needs to continue its vital work.

In its latest annual report, ICO reports that it handled 259,903 calls to its helpline and resolved 15,492 data protection complaints in 2013/2014, a rise of over 10 percent over the previous financial year. The watchdog investigated a record 1,755 cases, and issued civil monetary penalties totalling £1.97 million.

“We’re effective, efficient and busier than ever. But to do our job properly, to represent people properly, we need stronger powers, more sustainable funding and a clearer guarantee of independence,” said Christopher Graham, UK’s information commissioner.

More power to you

The ICO had its hands full during the past 12 months, as citizens decided against trusting the UK government with their health data, the European Union taught Google to forget and Facebook was literally toying with our emotions.

Christopher GrahamThe watchdog resolved a total of 15,492 data protection complaints, with the money lending sector generating the most, followed by local governments. It also had to decide on 5,296 Freedom of Information complaints, when the target organisations refused to provide the required data.

ICO processed 161,720 reports about spam, with almost half involving automated calls, mostly related to Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) and debt management. It then fined five organisations responsible for unsolicited marketing a total of nearly £500,000.

The watchdog undertook seven prosecutions related to breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, issued four enforcement notices and agreed one undertaking. It secured 12 criminal convictions and issued two cautions over illegal disclosure of personal data.

Some of the cases were more serious than others: for example,  the ICO prosecuted a debt tracing company called ICU Investigations Limited, securing seven convictions ranging from the company secretary to its director.

The watchdog warns that it might be unable to continue delivering such results – for the past five years it has faced a reduction in its funding for FoI requests, while the proposed EU data protection reforms would remove the notification fee that funds the ICO’s work under the Data Protection Act.

“People need to know someone is watching over their information. That needs to be someone who’s independent, of government and business, so the public know the regulator can be trusted,” said Graham.

“Independence means someone who’s got the resources to take on this ever-growing number of cases. The last twelve months have been a record year – more complaints resolved than ever, more enforcement action taken and more advice given through our helpline.

“And it also means having the powers to act on the more serious complaints. A strong regulator is needed if a data breach affects millions of people.”

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