ICO calls Data Protection Directive ‘scarcely fit for purpose’

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The Information Commissioner responsible for safeguarding British citizens’ data has called the directive on which his office is based "scarcely fit for purpose".

Speaking at Liverpool University’s Roscoe Lecture on Monday, Christopher Graham said that data collection and technology had surged ahead of the Data Protection Directive issued in 1995, with the updated European Data Protection Regulation still yet to be passed by the EU.

"Whatever we do online, we are leaving a trail of personal data which can be analysed, linked, mashed, and crunched. And our privacy is more and more compromised," he said. "Some people say, hey that’s the modern world. Get over it. But it doesn’t have to be like that."

"Sensible laws and sensible citizens can protect privacy and still enable good things to happen online. And sensible data controllers too understand that customers will fall out of love with companies and brands that do not respect either their privacy or their intelligence."

He added that Europeans could not hide inside "Fortress Europe", because the internet allows hackers to use infrastructure from around the world to commit crime.

Graham also defended the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, described by former prime minister Tony Blair as his "greatest mistake" in office, against attacks from the Conservative party, who are seeking to replace the requests process with a culture of proactive disclosure.

"Proactive publication is, of course, desirable – and it also saves money in the long run," he said. "After all, why should an individual l have to go to the trouble of making a specific request for something that should be freely available to all anyway?"

"But to rely on proactive publication alone leaves the citizen a bit like the supermarket shopper who’s told by the high handed store assistant: ‘if you can’t find it on the shelves, we ain’t got none’."

He added that while critics complaint FoI requests are too costly, he is "strongly of the opinion that the net impact of FOI is to reduce costs" to the taxpayer.

"This is because shining a light into the darker corners of the public service cuts waste and promotes efficiencies that must outweigh the administrative costs involved," he said.

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