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Canadian Elizabeth Denham set for the UK's next information commissioner

Canadian privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham is to become the UK's next information commissioner as government pushes ahead with the snoopers' charter

British Columbia’s privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham is set to become the UK’s next information commissioner.

She has been confirmed as the government's preferred candidate to succeed Christopher Graham, who was appointed on a five-year term in 2009 that was extended for two years.

Rules under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 mean he cannot be reappointed.

Denham is expected to take over the role in summer 2016, subject to a pre-scrutiny hearing by the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee and final approval by the Queen.

The Canadian is coming to the end of a six-year term as the information and privacy commissioner for the province of British Columbia, where she reportedly had been expected to be appointed to a second term.

Previously she was the assistant privacy commissioner of Canada from 2007 to 2010, and a director at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta from 2003 to 2007.

Data protection minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe said Denham has a track record of working with business and other stakeholders, as well as a proactive approach to enforcing data protection law.

Advent of the EU GDPR

In the next five years, Denham will be the first UK information commissioner to work under the coming European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and will have to manage the change that it will bring to data protection in the UK.

If the UK remains in the EU, the GDPR is likely to make a substantial impact on the way the UK’s information commissioner’s office (ICO) functions – and even if the UK leaves the EU, the GDPR will still affect UK companies.

Either way, data protection experts believe the adoption of the GDPR will require the UK to replace its current data protection legislation as a result of changes in European legislation.  

Denham will also be the first information commissioner to work under the UK government’s planned Investigatory Powers Bill that is slowly but surely working its ways towards becoming law.

She may have to bring her experience in handling government in British Columbia to bear in the face of legislation that seeks controversial powers of data collection and usage.

Denham said in a statement that she believes the rapid pace of technological change will continue to accelerate and present challenges to information rights.

“We must ensure access to information while maintaining high standards of data protection. The ICO has a global reputation for practical, innovative and responsive regulation. I look forward to contributing to this work,” she said.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Denham is one of the most effective of all the independent watchdogs on government conduct.

“Even though Denham embarrassed the [ruling] Liberals on both privacy and access to information, she also earned their respect,” the paper said. 

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