Data watchdog finally gets new powers

The government's data watchdog is finally set to be given the ability to check data governance at public bodies without warning them first and the power to give out fines to those not up to scratch.

A series of over 270 data breaches over the past year has lead information commissioner Richard Thomas to repeatedly call for stronger powers for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). The proposed changes include the ability to fine both public and private bodies for deliberate or reckless loss of data, although the cost of such fines is not yet determined.

The ICO will also be able to enter any government organisation to check procedures without warning, but will need a warrant to view the data they hold.

Announcing the move, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said: "The changes we propose today will strengthen the information commissioner's ability to enforce the Data Protection Act and improve the transparency and accountability of organisations dealing with personal information. This is very important if we are to regain public confidence in the handling and sharing of personal information."

Straw added: "As new technologies have developed, the secure storage and careful sharing of personal information held by both the public and private sectors has become paramount. Strong regulation and clear guidance is essential if we are to ensure the effective protection of personal data."

The proposals will also see Thomas winning a pay raise from 98,000 to 140,000 and the ICO's funding structure change from its current flat rate notification fee to one based on the size of the organisation and the amount of work.

Giving the ICO more power was just one of the lessons we all should have learned from a year of data breaches - click here to find out the rest.