A prominent cross-bench peer has proposed the creation of a super-watchdog to deal with aspects of data privacy and security enforcement.
Merlin, Earl of Erroll on Thursday called for two governmental data watchdogs, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC), to be combined. At present, the ICO endeavours to enforce data laws and regulations, while the OSC monitors covert surveillance operations by public sector agencies.
Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk, Lord Erroll said the ICO and the OSC should be rolled into one super-watchdog. This would solve a number of problems, said the peer, including the situation whereby the surveillance commissioner is primarily accountable to the Home Office, and then to parliament. "It's wrong that the surveillance commissioner reports to the home secretary rather than directly to parliament," said Lord Erroll, a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. "In many cases, he's trying to report abuses of the home secretary's powers, so to report to the home secretary is ridiculous."
Lord Erroll added that the problem was similar to that of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which reports to the prime minister. "As the Intelligence and Security Committee reports on abuse of executive power, it's the wrong reporting path," he said.
The ICO would also benefit from being amalgamated into one authority, said Lord Erroll, as is would make Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, less of a "target" if his office makes suggestions that parliament finds unpopular.
"Richard Thomas has come under personal attack in parliament for some decisions," Lord Erroll said. "An obvious one is the attack by MPs over his suggestion that Freedom of Information legislation include the release of information on MP expenses."
The ICO acts as the central reporting point for UK data breaches, such as the Amex, RBS, Natwest customer details reportedly sold on eBay last month.
Lord Erroll suggested the data super-watchdog be called the Personal Identity Protection Authority (PIPA), and quipped that: "He who pays the PIPA calls the tune". PIPA would primarily report to the whole of parliament, rather than an individual department within government, and consist of the ICO, the OSC, senior judges and data-protection experts.
The Ministry of Justice, which administers the ICO, said it had "no plans to merge these offices". The ICO and the OSC declined to comment. The Home Office, which administers the OSC, also declined to comment.