Data is the largest business asset that does not appear on the balance sheet

John Edwards, the United Kingdom’s new Information Commissioner, provided reassurance to his audience of mainly company privacy lawyers and managers that the transition to the UK’s new data protection law “will be as seamless and painless as possible.” Speaking at an IAPP event in London on 23 March, he said that the business sector is increasingly aware that “data is the largest asset that does not appear on the balance sheet.” This is a factor which certainly comes to the fore in merger and acquisition scenarios. It is for the Government and Parliament to set new rules and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is committed to maintaining the UK’s adequacy status from the EU. He continued “People want certainty to what the law is as well as to what it might become.”

He will be firm on enforcement, stating “Enforcement is my job.” He plans to make efforts to offer broader assurance in advance of what the law is, in a similar way to the tax authorities. Journalists always ask about fines. “Fines bring a benefit but they take time to work out the perimeter of what the law says. Fines must be used with surgical precision.”

His impression after three months in the job is that the ICO is trusted and its expertise is respected. He wants the ICO to be “agile and fix things, and preserve people’s rights.” He is confident that there is plenty of scope in existing law. Thinking positive, he made it clear that his attitude is “how to” not “don’t do.”

Regarding future changes in the law, he said “The ICO has a great relationship with the DCMS, indicating a regular exchange of views.” PL&B’s Stewart Dresner asked “Is the DCMS’s reform of the UK’s data protection law dealing with real problems with the current law?” While Edwards did not want to be drawn into this political area, he asked the audience: “Is the GDPR perfect? If not, there is room for reform.”