The UK Data Protection Watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has launched a public consultation on their future governance strategy, the ‘2020 Vision for Information Rights’. The ICO is being challenged by significant changes in the regulatory landscape triggered by imminent reform of EU data protection law. Simultaneously, the UK regulator is facing cutbacks in grant-in-aid, resulting in a funding crunch with resources being stretched to the maximum. Meanwhile, the public perception of the importance of information rights is growing; therefore the ICO has rightly recognised it must find a way to ‘do better for less’.

The public consultation sets out the ICO’s mission to ‘uphold information rights in the public interest’, and a vision ‘to be recognised as the authoritative arbiter of information rights – a good model for regulation’. The ICO’s goal is to achieve a society in which organisations collect personal information responsibly, all public authorities are transparent, and people understand how to protect their personal information and feel empowered to enforce their information rights.

The ICO set out five aims for the next years:

  1. Educate –
    Issue further guidance for organisations; influence advice at EU level; work with other regulators and sectoral bodies to secure compliance; and embed information rights within school’s curriculum
  2. Empower –
    Provide more guidance for citizens; develop privacy seals, kitemarks and accreditation schemes to make privacy rights more prominent; make reporting concerns easier with online mechanisms
  3. Enforce –
    Focus more intently on organisations that have significant breaches; collaborate with sectoral regulators in enforcement actions
  4. Enable –
    Demystify information rights to ensure data protection law is not seen as a roadblock to information sharing in the public interest
  5. Engage –
    Be up to date with developments in business and technology nationally and internationally to keep informed and to influence areas of reform

Overall, the ICO intends to be more outcome focused, prioritising only the highest information-rights risks, and reducing casework and response to individual enquiries to give greater attention to wider compliance issues. Furthermore, it intends to engage in greater dialogue to coordinate with government policy makers, sectoral bodies and other international regulators. The ICO seems likely to restructure in order to increase reliance on such partnerships to help provide a more sustainable funding model for the future.

Public consultation is due to close 7 February 2014.  The ICO anticipate they will publish their final strategy in light of responses from public consultation by March 2014, along with a corporate plan for three years 2014-17.