You want privacy? Give us the money and the powers so we can do the job, says watchdog

It has been a record year for the Information Commissioner's Office in prosecutions and penalties, but the information age keeps piling on the pressure.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

The Information Commissioner, the UK's privacy watchdog, has made a plea for better funding and stronger powers to tackle privacy issues.

At the launch of the ICO's latest annual report, the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, warned that his organisation needs better funding. "A strong regulator is needed if a data breach affects millions of people," Graham said, "but to do our job properly and to represent people properly we need stronger powers, more sustainable funding and a clearer guarantee of independence."

The ICO said issues such as the troubled launch of care.data, Facebook’s emotion research and the so-called Google 'right to be forgotten' ruling showed that organisations' use of data is getting ever more complicated. Graham said: "People need to know someone is watching over their information."

The ICO noted that it needs to be independent of government and business, so the public know the regulator can be trusted. "Sometimes the state is itself the issue. When the Intelligence and Security Committee wanted to know how the Snowden revelations fitted with data protection law, it was the Information Commissioner they turned to."

While the ICO is a big operation that employs 383 people in five locations and issued a total of £1.97m in fines and penalties last year (April 2013-March 2014), its budget has been cut every year for five years and, in any case, all the money it takes in through those fines and penalties has gone straight to the Treasury.

According to its own annual report, the ICO handled 259,903 calls to its helpline and resolved 15,492 data protection complaints — a rise, in both cases, of more than 10 percent. The ICO has also arrived at decisions on some 5,296 freedom of information complaints, (up 12 percent on last year) and has received 161,720 reports from people concerned about spam texts and nuisance calls.

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