ICO calls for careful balance between privacy rights and response to terrorism

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, says we must not compromise effective encryption for consumers using online services as a response to terrorism.

“I do not underestimate the real challenges posed by international terrorism – particularly after last week’s shootings in Paris. Truly, nous sommes tous Charlie. But, thinking about Paris, and the Woolwich murder too, we need cool heads to analyse carefully what information the security services had access to and how they used it before necessarily concluding that we must give them access to more and more of our private information.”

“But neither do I want a situation where the security imperative closes down every debate about rights and obligations. The dictum ‘Salus Populi Suprema Lex’ can be translated two ways. Either ‘the common good is supreme’ or ‘state security calls the shots’. Either way, it’s about determining where the public interest lies.”

Speaking at Liverpool John Moores University on 12 January, Graham said that privacy is not an absolute right, “but, in matters of security, we surely need an effective American-style Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board or the equivalent to find the right balance.”

“A year after I made a submission to the Intelligence and Security Committee on the subject of consumer encryption and oversight arrangements we are still waiting for the Committee to report.”

Graham said however that it is “encouraging to see the oversight issue at least being addressed in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill”.

The Government is currently consulting on setting up a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board as part of this Bill - clause 36 of the Bill makes provision for the establishment of such a body. The consultation, which closes on 30 January 2015, invites comments on a number of details (such as membership of the board).

The consultation

Christopher Graham’s speech