A new strategic direction for data protection in the UK

The announcement by the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) on 10 March is potentially very significant. It shows that the ICO, Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority, the separate regulators in the DRCF, see a common interest in tackling personal data related problems together. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will join in April.

Conceptually, it is easy to see how fintech issues would involve both the ICO and the FCA. But it has taken years for them to actually cooperate to this extent, as they have different priorities and operate within different legal frameworks.

Maybe the change of atmosphere in both government and behaviour across society, driven by the pandemic, has put greater emphasis on data for the common good and its fair use. As a result, the working together of these different regulators has encouraged a new boldness in tackling the most visible targets. In January 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority opened a formal competition investigation into Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

Is this cooperation the high point of this trend? It looks as if there will be a change of emphasis for the next Information Commissioner’s role. The government is now recruiting for a new Information Commissioner, as Elizabeth Denham reaches the end of her five-year term this year.

When the government published its job description for the new Information Commissioner it stated clearly that the government is looking for a candidate to deliver “a new approach to data in the UK that strikes the right balance between high data protection standards and responsible use of data to benefit our economy and society.” These objectives are explained in more detail in the role specification which is explicit in showing how the government regards data as a strategic economic asset, and the new Information Commissioner should have this mind set and skill set.

To quote from the job description and I have added emphasis:

  1. Data is a strategic asset and its responsible use should be seen as a huge opportunity to embrace.
  2. Getting this right is critical to jobs and growth as the UK economy becomes increasingly digitised and data-enabled.
  3. We also want the public to be active agents in a thriving digital economy, who have confidence and trust in how data, including personal data, is used.
  4. This will mean maintaining high standards of data protection without creating unnecessary barriers to data use.
  5. We are looking for an outstanding individual to become the next Information Commissioner, who understands the importance of striking this balance and delivering on this critical agenda.
  6. The Information Commissioner has a key role to play to drive the responsible use of data across the economy, to build trust and confidence, and to communicate the wider benefits of data sharing for our society as well as for competition, innovation and growth.
  7. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is now one of the most important economic regulators in the UK...”

I am not suggesting that these criteria for selecting the new Information Commissioner are wrong. What I am saying is that this is a change of emphasis of the UK Information Commissioner’s role, which means that in future it is likely to be closer to the role of privacy law regulator in Singapore than in France.

You can read of the high level thinking reflecting this trend in our article by John Whittingdale, Minister for Media and Data. We will learn more about this new direction for the UK government’s strategy in our forthcoming webinar with the DCMS, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man  and in Mr. Whittingdale’s opening address to our 34th Annual International Conference, Resetting Privacy: Winning Trust on 5th July. You will have an opportunity to discuss these issues with his team.

Registration is now open for these and the other online events we have lined up for you in the March to July period.

We look forward to “meeting” you at these online events which we will continue this year while we keep our eyes on the horizon and our 35th Annual International Conference 4-6 July, 2022, back at St. John’s College, Cambridge.


Stewart Dresner, Publisher


UK Report 114

Lead stories:

Common sense prevails in post-Brexit data transfers

The UK government is preparing independent UK adequacy arrangements to remove unnecessary barriers to transfers. By UK Minister for Media and Data, John Whittingdale MP.

Adtech and its evolution are back on the ICO’s agenda

Marta Dunphy-Moriel and Alexander Dittel of Deloitte UK share their thoughts about where the regulator may be going in its aim to ensure privacy in the adtech industry.

Click for full contents list