The UK government has indicated that it plans to go ahead with most of its proposed reforms for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – although some will be softened to ease fears about its future independence.
It has outlined its plans as part of its lengthy response to the consultation on the Data Reform Bill, published last week, effectively increasing the influence of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The relevant section of the document shows that most of the proposals will go ahead, albeit with some amendments, reflecting the government’s view that the organisation should operate with a clearer strategic vision and new governance model.
A key feature is an acceptance of the proposal that the ICO should carry out its data protection functions under a statement of strategic priorities to be prepared by the secretary of state in the DCMS. But while the ICO will be required to respond to the priorities it will not be legally bound to act in accordance with the statement, which will sit below objectives under the General Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Act.
This is related to another proposal that will go ahead, for a statutory framework for its objectives and duties, accompanied by an overarching objective with two components related to upholding data rights and encouraging the trustworthy and responsible use of personal data.
Other significant elements of the ICO’s obligations will be to consult with other regulators and take account of the need to encourage competition, innovation and growth.
The government is also planning to go ahead with the proposal to set up a statutory board with a chair and chief executive, which is aimed at bringing the ICO in line with other regulators such as Ofcom and the Financial Conduct Authority.
It is also open to the possibility of changing the organisation's name in the future.
The document says this will not lead to any erosion of its independence, a view which has been echoed by Information Commissioner John Edwards in his public response to the plan.
“I am pleased to see the government has taken our concerns about independence on board,” he said.
“Data protection law needs to give people confidence to share their information to use the products and services that power our economy and society. The proposed changes will ensure my office can continue to operate as a trusted, fair and impartial regulator, and enable us to be more flexible and target our action in response to the greatest harms.
“We look forward to continuing to work constructively with the government as the proposals are progressed and will continue to monitor how these reforms are expressed in the bill.”