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UK well equipped to protect data after Brexit, says new ICO head

The public sector, industry, civil society and the public at large all have a role to play in effective data protection regulation, says new UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham

The UK is well-equipped to deal with the changes to data protection after the Brexit vote, according to the new information commissioner.

Elizabeth Denham made the observation in the first newsletter to be published by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) since she took up the role on 18 July 2016.

“The result of the EU referendum and its impact on data protection reforms will undoubtedly create uncertainty, as any period of flux does,” she said. “It’s clear to me, though, that the UK is well equipped to navigate the changes ahead successfully.”

Indicating that she means to continue her predecessor Christopher Graham’s policy of engagement with stakeholders, Denham said data protection was a “team sport”.

“Effective regulation requires engagement with the public sector, with industry, with civil society and with the public at large,” she said. “We all have an important role to play in this.”

Although Graham left the ICO on 28 June 2016 after seven years, there was a delay in Denham taking over because of a failure by government to obtain the Queen’s consent for the appointment in time.

Graham’s deputy, Simon Entwistle, was acting information commissioner until Denham was able to take over the leadership of the ICO, which regulates the UK’s Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act and the rules around marketing calls and texts.

Denham was shortlisted in April 2016, and was approved for the post of information commissioner by the Parliamentary Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on 27 April.

She was appointed for a five-year term as information commissioner after holding senior positions in privacy regulation in Canada for the past 12 years.

Since 2010, Denham has been the commissioner at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, Canada.

“Over more than a dozen years in this sector, I’ve seen the pace of the privacy regulator job quicken, and the scope of the work grows wider every day,” Denham wrote in the newsletter.

“Access to information and privacy touch nearly all aspects of public and commercial life and our work is at the centre of some of the most compelling issues of our time.”

ICO makes a difference

Denham noted that the ICO’s work makes a difference to citizens and consumers, employees and other rights holders.

In addition to helping navigate the changes necessitated by the Brexit vote, Denham is the first UK information commissioner since the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Network Information Security (NIS) Directive and EU-US Privacy Shield framework were approved.

Referring to these challenges, Denham said there was “a lot happening this side of the pond” but that the coming weeks would enable her to become more familiar with the work of the ICO and “get to grips” with the challenges ahead.

Denham, who has a track record of taking a proactive approach to enforcing data protection law and tackling government on privacy issues, will also have to deal with implications for UK business of the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, which is well on its way to becoming law.  

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