The UK government has unveiled plans to “overhaul” the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) as it launched a consultation designed to reform the nation’s data sector.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it wants to revamp the structure of the ICO, the independent body responsible for upholding information rights in the UK. This includes creating an independent board and chief executive to mirror other regulatory authorities, such as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Ofcom.

The government also plans to expand the ICO’s remit and enable the Information Commissioner to champion examples of innovative and responsible data use, particularly in critical sectors such as healthcare.

The proposed changes have come shortly after the government announced its preferred candidate to be the new Information Commissioner, John Edwards, who is currently the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner. In the same release, it outlined its ambition to reform the UK’s data laws to unlock the full potential of data throughout the economy.  

The reforms outlined in the new consultation build on this pledge, aiming to “remove unnecessary barriers to responsible data use.” This is particularly to facilitate innovation in sectors such as healthcare, science and emerging technologies like AI. The DCMS pointed out that the use of AI and machine learning will increase significantly in the coming years and believes greater flexibility in the UK’s data rules is required to ensure the risk of bias in these algorithmic systems can be better understood and mitigated.

The government also signaled its intention to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to data and allow organizations to “demonstrate compliance in ways more appropriate to their circumstances.”

Additionally, new obligations could be placed upon organizations to protect personal data and individual privacy. This includes proposals to impose tougher penalties and fines for nuisance calls and text messages.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden commented: “Data is one of the most important resources in the world, and we want our laws to be based on common sense, not box-ticking.

“Now that we have left the EU, we have the freedom to create a new world-leading data regime that unleashes the power of data across the economy and society.

“These reforms will keep people’s data safe and secure, while ushering in a new golden age of growth and innovation right across the UK, as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Bojana Bellamy, president of Centre for Information Policy Leadership (CIPL), said: “The UK government’s plan to reform data protection regime is bold and much needed in the modern digital and data-driven age. It could be a win-win for all — organizations, individuals and society.

“It enables organizations to leverage data responsibly, for economic and societal benefits, and to build their brand as trusted data stewards. It gives individuals assurances and more effective protection from genuine harms.

“Accountability, risk and outcome-based approach will be welcomed by all — these are the founding blocks of modern regulation and a modern regulator. I hope other countries follow the UK’s lead.”

Recently, Infosecurity interviewed Bojana Bellamy about potential changes to the UK’s data laws, including GDPR, post-Brexit.

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