Data Protection (Information Commissioner)

Justice written statement – made on 24th November 2008.

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Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am today publishing the Government's response to the Data Sharing Review and the response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on the Information Commissioner's inspection powers and funding under the Data Protection Act 1998.

The protection of personal data will always be a high priority and we know that good regulation is essential to support a robust data protection framework. We believe that, although the current regulatory framework does not require sweeping changes, more can, and must be done to ensure that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has the powers and resources necessary to carry out its duties under the Data Protection Act. The tools available to the ICO must be flexible enough to meet a range of circumstances and encourage good practice, allowing it to take firm and assertive action when necessary.

The use of information underpins Government's ability to deliver benefits for the citizen through targeted and improved public services, opportunities for the most disadvantaged, protection from crime and terrorism and economic well-being. However we can only do this successfully when we are able to increase public confidence in the sharing and handling of personal data by both the public and private sectors. The proposals as outlined in the two documents being published today will contribute toward that process.

We will increase the powers, penalties and funding available to the ICO by specifically proposing to:

develop the ICO's inspection powers in respect of public authorities so as to enable the ICO to inspect without necessarily requiring prior consent; allow the ICO to impose a deadline and location for the provision of information necessary to assess compliance; allow the ICO to require any person on the premises, where a warrant is being executed, to provide any information required to determine whether the data controller has complied with, or is complying with, the data protection principles; mandate the ICO to publish guidance on when organisations should notify the ICO of breaches of the data protection principles; and alter the ICO funding structure from a flat rate notification fee to a tiered-fee structure based on size of organisation, providing additional funds for the ICO in a more equitable funding structure.

In addition, to reinforce the framework within which we can safely share data and deliver benefits for the public, we propose to:

place a statutory duty on the ICO to publish a data sharing code of practice in order to provide practical guidance on how to share personal data in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act and to promote good practice in the sharing of personal data; and confer a power upon the Secretary of State to permit or require the sharing of personal information between particular specified persons, where a robust case for doing so exists.

To further strengthen the powers available to the ICO, we are working on bringing fully into force section 55A of the Data Protection Act, introduced in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 but not yet commenced. This will allow the ICO to impose monetary penalties on data controllers in the case of serious contraventions of the Data Protection Act.

The additional powers for the ICO will ensure the regulatory framework is robust, proportionate and encourage good practice. These measures will increase public confidence in the handling and sharing of data by the public and private sectors.

Copies of both the Government's response to the Data Sharing Review and the response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on the Information Commissioner's inspection powers and funding under the Data Protection Act 1998 will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies will also be available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.