What does the ICO think about PRISM and the GDPR?
I’ve never been convinced on the value of the UK’s data protection regulator, the ICO. There are numerous reasons for this. Firstly, the Data Protection Act is a law. Upholding the law is a job for the police and courts, not a government-controlled quango. Secondly, to uphold the law you need a grounding in the law: the ICO should be a lawyer not a marketer. And thirdly, the whole premise of the Data Protection Act is absurd. The way it is established means that proof of compliance is not getting hacked, while proof of non-compliance is getting hacked. And getting hacked is a lottery that has little relationship to security spend.
But I think I lost all respect when the ICO published an ‘independent’ report on the GDPR last month. It was undertaken by London Economics and is reliant on statistics (a survey of 506 data protection professionals working in UK companies). Statistics always reflect the bias of the author, so they’re always pretty meaningless. But that’s not the issue. It was what the ICO said about it:
Today’s report is the latest contribution from the ICO to this debate. We’d urge the European Commission to take on board what it says, and to refocus on the importance of developing legislation that delivers real protections for consumers without damaging business or hobbling regulators.
This is gobbledygook. ‘Without damaging business or hobbling regulators’ is rather confused since it is protecting business that hobbles regulators. He claims to want ‘real protections for consumers’ when what he is advocating limits the genuinely real protections for consumers proposed by the EC.
But above all, what is the Information Commissioner doing in advocating for business rights? His mission, in his own words, “is to uphold information rights in the public interest.” Yet here he is trying to uphold business rights to the detriment of the public interest. Lobbying against the GDPR on behalf of business is none of his concern, and a betrayal of the people he is supposed to protect.
He is, however, toeing the UK government line; which in turn is toeing the US government and US corporate line. PRISM shows us that the US government cannot be trusted with our personal data. GCHQ’s involvement with PRISM and the MPs’ call to get the Snoopers’ Charter back on course show that UK politicians cannot be trusted with our personal data.
And where is the ICO on PRISM? God knows. He has published no statement, and posted no blog on the subject. Instead, he is lobbying on behalf of business to make the transfer of our personal data (via Google, Facebook, Microsoft et al) to the NSA all the easier.
It’s time for the ICO to be abolished and replaced by something more meaningful, and someone more willing to fight for the people rather than lobby for business at the behest of government.