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Cabinet Office privacy adviser resigns

03/05/17

Jerry Fishenden says department no longer appreciates ‘canary function’ of Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group

The co-chair of the Cabinet Office’s Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group (PCAG) has stood down, claiming the department no longer understands or values its role.

Jerry FishendenJerry Fishenden (pictured), who has been in the role since the PCAG was established six years ago, announced the move in his personal blog, shortly after he criticised the newly passed Digital Economy Act for failing to deal with concerns around data protection.

He says the group enjoyed ministerial support as a “critical friend” of government on privacy and technology issues when Francis Maude was minister for the Cabinet Office. But since Maude stood down after the 2015 general election there has been only one meeting with a minister, back in December 2015.

“Without such backing, those officials who find the group’s expert reviews and analyses “challenging” have found it easier to ignore, attempting instead to smuggle their often half-baked proposals past ministers without the benefit of the group’s independent assistance,” Fishenden says.

He highlights the PCAG’s criticism of Part 5 of the Digital Economy Act, notably that it appears to weaken citizen's control of their personal data to make it easier for public authorities and other organisations to share it. This, he claims, goes against the Government Digital Service’s (GDS) focus on user needs.

Although the two groups have continued to meet regularly, a request made late last year for a meeting with the minister for the Cabinet Office, supported by GDS, received no acknowledgement.

Not wanted

“I can only assume from this lack of engagement that PCAG’s canary function is either no longer understood, or no longer valued,” Fishenden says. “If the group is no longer wanted – well, surely it would be much better all round if someone just said so openly?”

He does thank civil servants, ministers and MPs who have worked constructively with the group, and says he hopes that it might find new life after next month’s general election.

In response, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Views from many groups, including the Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group, were taken into account when establishing the Digital Economy Act 2017."

Fishenden's co-chair on the PCAG is Edgar Whitley, associate director of information systems at the London School of Economics.

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