The only compulsory data protections audit powers the ICO currently has are for central government departments
The Information Commissioner has sought powers to conduct compulsory data protection audits in local government, the health service and the private sector to ensure compliance with the law.
Speaking at the 10th annual data protection compliance conference in London, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said, "Something is clearly wrong when the regulator has to ask permission from the organisations causing us concern before we can audit their data protection practices."
At present, the only compulsory data protections audit powers the ICO has are for central government departments. For all other organisations the ICO has to win consent before an audit can take place.
"Helping the healthcare sector, local government and businesses to handle personal data better are top priorities, and yet we are powerless to get in there and find out what is really going on,"added Graham.
Data breaches in the NHS continue to be a major problem, said the ICO. Of the 47 undertakings the ICO has agreed with organisations that have breached the Data Protection Act since April, over 40% (19) were in the healthcare sector. In addition, the most serious personal data breaches that have resulted in a civil monetary penalty occurred in the local government sector. Four of the six penalties served so far involved local authorities, said the ICO.
Businesses remain the sector generating the most data protection complaints. Despite this, as reported in July, just 19% of companies contacted by the ICO accepted the offer of undergoing an audit.
The ICO has written to 29 banks and building societies and so far only six (20%) have agreed to undergo an audit. The insurance sector has also shown reluctance in this area. Of the 19 companies contacted this year by the ICO, only two agreed to an audit, said the ICO.
Graham said, "With more data being collected about all of us than ever before, greater audit powers are urgently needed to ensure that the people handling our data are doing a proper job. I am preparing the business case for the extension of the ICO’s Assessment Notice powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to these problematic sectors."