The ICO wants a wider remit where data is used

Personal data and its regulation are "indivisible" from conversations about AI, Brexit and fake news, says Elizabeth Denham

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has said that future regulation on technologies and policies that are underpinned by data must include her office.

Speaking at the Institute for Government, Denham said that personal data and it's regulation were "indivisible" from conversations about AI, Brexit and the spread of misinformation.

Her comments come after a year of high-profile action against Facebook, which the ICO fined over the Cambridge Analytic scandal. However, on Thursday Denham wanted to discuss the further implications of data rather than just its protection.

"I've given evidence to Parliament, over a dozen times, and not just talking about issues of data protection, but on wider issues that have data at their heart," she said. "Data ethics, the deployment of AI in the UK, the security implications of Brexit, algorithmic decision making, fake news and disinformation.

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"You can't discuss these issues, or have an informed policy direction without taking data protection into account. So personal data and its regulation are indivisible from these conversations."

Denham, who came to the UK in 2016, said that she had been looking around other regulatory bodies and found that none had quite the "breadth of the remit of the ICO" but her comments suggest that even that is not enough.

"It used to be a relatively sleepy area of law - freedom of information and data protection - but now information rights are an essential plank of modern democracies," she said.

"It's all about trust and confidence that people have in government institutions. Simply put, freedom of information and data protection support the legitimacy of public administration."

Denham went on to say that the ICO "will take action, whenever and wherever, data obligations are disregarded" but added that the challenge it presents keeps her up at night: "That is a really big challenge for us and a really big challenge for my office because public expectations are so high and we've got to keep our eye on many developing policy debates and conversations where data use arises."

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