Lords’ surveillance report vindicates ICO warning

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has endorsed the recommendations in the House of Lords report on surveillance systems

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has endorsed the recommendations in the House of Lords report on surveillance systems as a vindication of its own report on the topic.

Jonathan Bamford, the ICO's assistant commissioner, welcomed the Lords' report. He said the agency had warned several years ago about the dangers of sleepwalking into a surveillance society.

There were "significant risks" that personal details were kept for longer than needed, become out of date or fall into the wrong hands, he said.

"CEOs need to ensure that their organisations are minimising the amount of personal information that is collected," he said.

Bamford said there were clear benefits for limited sharing of personal details, but only if it was done in precisely defined circumstances and did not lead to large-scale data sharing. That would be a very significant change to public policy, he said.

"I would like to see the proposals outlined in the Coroners and Justice Bill more closely mirror the recommendations contained in the Thomas/Walport Data Sharing Review."

Bamford also welcomed the government's intention to enable the ICO to inspect public sector bodies' compliance with the Data Protection Act without always requiring consent.

"We would have preferred to have this power to undertake audits extended to private sector organisations as well, and we are pleased the committee agrees." He said the ICO had already lobbied government for this power.

Bamford welcomed the Lords committee's focus on the need to build in safeguards from the start of a data collection system. He supported the call for government departments to produce an independent and publicly available privacy impact assessment (PIA) before it went ahead with new data collection or processing schemes.

"We welcome the recommendation that the ICO is consulted prior to the adoption of any information system, and we recognise that this puts us at the heart of reinforcing key data protection messages," he said.

The ICO fully supported the recommendation for an enforceable statutory code of practice for CCTV operators, which would build on the good practice outlined in the ICO's existing CCTV guidance, said Bamford.

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