Elizabeth Denham confirmed as the UK's next Information Commissioner

The UK House of Commons Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today confirmed Elizabeth Denham's appointment as Information Commissioner after Christopher Graham's term of office ends on 28 June.

The pre-appointment hearing had a potential veto over the appointment and spent one and quarter hours asking wide-ranging questions including how she would make the transition from Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia (BC), Canada, to becoming UK Information Commissioner. This is the first time that PL&B is aware that a Data Protection or Freedom of Information Commissioner has been appointed from a different country.

Denham explained that Canada has 30 years of experience of Freedom of Information law compared with 10 years in the UK. As a result of her investigations, the BC government has made substantial changes. However, Canada has "softer laws" on data protection. "Data protection is the responsibility of directors to take it out of the IT department and into the board room," she said.

Denham said that she would be willing to impose large fines on companies when 'things go very wrong,' citing the maximum fine of 4% of annual global revenue included as a sanction in the EU Data Protection Regulation. She suggested that company directors should be made personally liable for data breaches in some situations. "Sanctions for bad actors are necessary and healthy for a digital economy."

However, she said that her approach as the UK Information Commissioner would be firstly to educate and advise organisations and conduct audits. Compulsory audits by the ICO would be helpful. Fear of loss of reputation could play a useful role.

She said she was the first privacy regulator to initiate high level enforcement case against Google Streetview, and also conducted an investigation into Facebook's privacy practices. Denham said that she would continue the approach she had in Canada of engaging with stakeholders, including companies,to become informed of what they are planning next.

Denham was asked at the hearing: Would you work for the Government or Parliament?" In a firm declaration of principle, she responded:"For Parliament and the people." Less than eight hours later, the Committee announced that it approved her appointment.

Read more about the hearing in the May issue of PL&B UK Report.