Brian Sims

ICO and Ofcom strengthen partnership on data protection

THE INFORMATION Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Ofcom have issued a joint statement setting out how the two organisations will work together to ensure coherence between the data protection and new online safety regimes.

The joint statement, which runs to 16 pages, builds on their existing co-operative approach to regulation and on the close working relationship established by dint of both organisations being co-founders of the Digital Regulation Co-operation Forum.

In anticipation of Ofcom taking on new duties in 2023 under the Online Safety Bill, the statement sets out shared regulatory aims. In essence, the ICO and Ofcom want:

*people who use online services to have confidence that their safety and privacy will be upheld and that both organisations will take prompt and effective action when providers fail in their obligations

*providers of online services of all sizes to comply with their obligations and to continue to innovate and grow, supported by regulatory clarity and free from undue burden

To achieve this, the ICO and Ofcom will work closely together for maximum alignment and consistency between the data protection and online safety regimes. Further, the organisations will maximise coherence by ensuring policies are consistent with each other’s regulatory requirements and consult closely when preparing codes and guidance.

Preservation of privacy

ICO and Ofcom will seek solutions that enhance users’ safety and preserve their privacy. Where there are tensions between privacy and safety objectives, they will provide clarity on how compliance can be achieved with both regimes.

There’s also a stated desire to promote compliance by setting clear expectations for industry on what they must do to meet both their online safety and data protection requirements. That includes particular support through the transition for small and emerging firms to help them thrive and grow.

The ICO and Ofcom will take action against services that don’t meet their obligations, sharing information and intelligence as appropriate and co-ordinating approaches to enforcement.

*Read the joint statement in full

Consultation on FoI requests

The ICO has also launched a consultation on how it prioritises the complaints it receives about public bodies’ handling of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests.

Limited funding, an increase in FoI cases brought to the ICO and an increased need to support stretched public authorities have created ‘a perfect storm’. The ICO is therefore looking at ways in which to improve its FoI casework services to make information rights work more effectively.

The proposal is to prioritise complaints where there’s a clear public interest in the information that has been requested. Public interest covers a wide range of values and principles relating to the public good, or what is in the best interests of society.New criteria for prioritisation are set out in the consultation, including applying the following tests:

*Is there a high public interest in the information requested? Does it raise a novel or clearly high-profile issue that the ICO should look at quickly?

*Is the requester a person or group raising information rights awareness, supporting vulnerable groups or raising awareness of potentially significant public interest issues?

*Are vulnerable groups or people potentially affected significantly by the information requested?

*Would prioritisation have significant operational benefits or support those regulated?

Present system

The present system means that cases are taking a long time to complete, which ultimately hinders the delivery of effective transparency and open government. The proposed changes mean the ICO will aim to allocate priority cases within four weeks and complete them at pace. The ICO will complete 90% of all cases within six months.

This work is one of the first outcomes of ICO25, the ICO’s three-year strategic vision, which sets out how the ICO will regulate information rights as efficiently and effectively as possible.

*Responses should be submitted through the ICO website on or before Monday 19 December

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