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New UK Data Protection Regulator appointed

The UK House of Commons Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has approved Elizabeth Denham to replace Christopher Graham as Information Commissioner.

Following an open and transparent selection process in which 27 applications were received, Ms Denham, the current Information and Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia, Canada, will serve a five-year term as the head of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The Information Commissioner is an independent official appointed by the Crown.  The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, confirmed that Ms Denham was the Government’s preferred candidate in March 2016. In a pre-appointment hearing by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which has an effective veto over the appointment, Ms Denham explained that her priorities would be to educate and advise organisations and conduct audits. She also outlined her willingness to impose larger fines for information breaches by companies in the future, highlighting the possibility of making company directors personally liable.

Denham will be replacing the current Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who has served in this role since 2009. As the ex-Vice Chair of the Article 29 Working Party (the EU’s independent data protection advisory body), Mr Graham has been at the centre of development and progress for the ICO and, more recently, the stricter and more punitive approach to breaches of data protection obligations (see W&B article).

Mr Graham has said that his successor is “an inspired choice” and that she “will be a great leader for the ICO as it adapts to the demands of the new data protection framework – and she’ll be an effective upholder of information rights both in the UK and internationally”.

The role of the ICO

Elizabeth Denham and the ICO will focus on promoting good practice, ruling on complaints and taking regulatory action in two main sectors. First, her commitment to the Freedom of Information Act and the promotion of official information in the public interest held by public bodies. The ICO’s second (and very current) practice area is data protection and ensuring the privacy of individuals.

WAB Comment

Ms Denham is beginning her term of office at a time when data protection will be at the forefront of the minds of both companies and politicians, and she is likely to face an ever-developing range of challenges in her new role.

Among these is the introduction of the General Data Protection Regime (GDPR) in 2018, which will result in a uniform data protection regime across all Member States, strengthening protections for individuals whilst increasing the obligations on organisations which collect and handle personal data. For more information on the GDPR, please see the W&B articles on the passing of the GDPR (here) and on the ICO’s recommended twelve practical steps for organisations to take in preparation for the GDPR (here).

Accordingly, Mr Graham commented, “Growing public concerns about privacy and public demand for transparency, combined with the upcoming EU data protection regulation and potential challenges to Freedom of Information Act, mean that a fascinating and rewarding job just got even bigger and better”.

Disclaimer: This article is produced for and on behalf of White & Black Limited, which is a limited liability company registered in England and Wales with registered number 06436665. It is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The contents of this article should be viewed as opinion and general guidance, and should not be treated as legal advice.

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