Brian Sims

Government names preferred nominee for Information Commissioner

THE DEPARTMENT for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has announced that John Edwards is the Government’s preferred nominee to become the next Information Commissioner. Edwards would succeed Elizabeth Denham in the role. The appointment is subject to approval from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and then approval by Her Majesty The Queen.

John Edwards is currently New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner – an appointment he began back in February 2014 – and would bring a wealth of data regulation experience to the role of Information Commissioner, not only from his current posting, but also as a direct result of 20 years-plus of practising law and specialising in information law.

He;s currently serving his second five-year term as Privacy Commissioner for New Zealand with direct responsibility for the implementation of New Zealand’s newly passed Privacy Act 2020. Edwards chaired the Global Privacy Assembly (then known as the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners) from 2014-2017.

In terms of the timeline on this appointment, Edwards will now appear before MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for pre-appointment scrutiny on Thursday 9 September.

Under the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner is appointed by Her Majesty The Queen by Letters Patent on the basis of fair and open competition and on the recommendation of Government ministers (ie Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport, through the Prime Minister Boris Johnson).

Ministers were assisted in their decision-making by an Advisory Assessment Panel which included a departmental official and a senior independent panel member approved by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Future data regime

The announcement also sets out the Government’s intention to consult on reforms to the UK’s future data regime and outlines the detail of those countries the UK will prioritise when it comes to forging data adequacy partnerships.

Data underpins innovation and the global digital economy, everyday apps and cloud computing systems. It allows businesses to trade, drives international investment and supports law enforcement agencies tackling crime, not to mention the delivery of critical public services and health and science research.

The first territories with which the Government will prioritise striking data adequacy partnerships following the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) are the United States, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia. The Government has also confirmed that future partnerships with India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia are being prioritised.

These new data adequacy partnerships, which will be subject to assessments that ensure high data protection standards, will build significantly on the £80 billion of data-enabled service exports to these destinations from the UK every year. Estimates suggest there’s as much as £11 billion worth of trade that goes unrealised around the world due to barriers associated with data transfers.

As Information Commissioner with responsibility for enforcing data protection law, Edwards would be empowered to go beyond the regulator’s traditional role of focusing only on protecting data rights, with a clear mandate to take a balanced approach that promotes further innovation and economic growth.

Plans to consult on the future of the country’s data regime are presently being confirmed. The aim is to make the country’s data regime even more ambitious, pro-growth and innovation-friendly, while at the same time still being underpinned by secure and trustworthy privacy standards.

World-leading data policy

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden observed: “Now that we have left the EU, I’m determined to seize the opportunity by developing a world-leading data policy that will deliver a Brexit dividend for individuals and businesses across the UK.

That means seeking exciting new international data partnerships with some of the world’s fastest growing economies for the benefit of British firms and British customers alike.”

Dowden added: “It also means reforming our own data laws so that they’re based on common sense, not box-ticking. Further, it means having the leadership in place at the Information Commissioner’s Office to pursue a new era of data-driven growth and innovation. John Edwards’s vast experience makes him the ideal candidate to ensure that data is used responsibly in order to achieve those goals.”

In response, John Edwards noted: “It’s a great honour and responsibility to be considered for appointment to this key role as a watchdog for the information rights of the people of the United Kingdom. There’s a tremendous opportunity to build on the wonderful work already done and I look forward to the challenge of steering the organisation, and indeed the British economy, into a position of international leadership when it comes to the safe and trusted use of data for the benefit of all.”

Current Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham explained: “Data driven innovation stands to bring enormous benefits to the UK’s economy and to our society, but the digital opportunity before us today will only be realised in an environment where people continue to trust that their data will be used fairly and transparently, both here in the UK and when shared overseas.”

Denham went on to state: “My office has supported valuable innovation, while also encouraging public trust in data use, and particularly so during the pandemic. We stand ready to provide our expert advice and insight as part of any future Government consultation.”

In conclusion, Denham commented: “Implementing any changes on which Parliament decides will fall to my successor who will take on a role that has never been more important or more relevant to people’s lives. John Edwards would bring extraordinary breadth, international leadership and credibility to the role of Information Commissioner. He will receive the support of a modern and independent Information Commissioner’s Office that has the courage, resources and expertise to make a positive difference to people’s lives.”

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