The Data Brief

A monthly data protection bulletin from the barristers at 5 Essex Chambers

Recruitment process for new Information Commissioner criticised

5 May 2021

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has written to the Culture Secretary to complain that the Government is ‘unduly influencing’ the search for a new Information Commissioner

The hunt for a new Information Commissioner has begun: the term of the current Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, ends in November. But a group of 29 MPs and peers has recently written an open letter to Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, complaining about the Government’s approach to the recruitment process.

The advertisement for the role highlights the need for the new Commissioner to ‘understand the wider benefits of data sharing’, have ‘commercial and business acumen’ and ‘experience of using data to drive innovation and growth.’ It does not mention experience in regulating data protection, but does specify the need for the new Commissioner to align their goals with those of the National Data Strategy, including removing barriers to commercial use of data and balancing rights with growth.

That approach mirrors recent Cabinet-level suggestions that, post-Brexit, the UK might look to depart from the standards set down in the GDPR – although of course such a decision would be fraught with difficulty in terms of obtaining and maintaining an EU-UK adequacy decision.

The cross-party group fears that the Government ‘seeks an Information Commissioner that will work to remove protections within current laws, to reduce the risks of enforcement action, and rather than guarantee the rights of individuals, will seek to “balance” rights against concerns such as “regulatory certainty” and economic growth.”’ Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said ‘It is essential that people’s privacy and rights are protected, but this government seems set on appointing a new regulator who will simply do its bidding, rather than stand up for people’s rights.’

Although the letter has support from MPs and peers from Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP, it seems unlikely that the Government will change tack. That may well herald a sea change in the ICO’s approach come November. Against that background, it is interesting to note that in a recent blog announcing the ICO’s response to the Government’s proposal for a trusted digital identity system, the ICO’s Deputy Commissioner and Executive Director for Regulatory Strategy broadly welcomed the proposal, and specifically noted the ‘opportunities of the digital economy and public services’ as well as how ‘a digital identity system with strong governance and effective data protection safeguards can help improve public access to digital services’. Although it is still early days, the future may be an ICO that is less focused on enforcement and compliance, and more interested in economic opportunities.

Further reading

Open letter

ICO’s blog

The Data Brief

A monthly data protection bulletin from the barristers at 5 Essex Chambers

The Data Brief is edited by Francesca Whitelaw KC, Aaron Moss and John Goss, barristers at 5 Essex Chambers, with contributions from the whole information law, data protection and AI Team.

Visit the Information Law, Data Protection and AI area

Search The Data Brief

Portfolio Builder

Select the practice areas that you would like to download or add to the portfolio

Download    Add to portfolio   
Title Type CV Email

Remove All


Click here to share this shortlist.
(It will expire after 30 days.)