ICO demands funding reform to help it cope with deluge of data protection cases

Government funding

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has called on the Government to overhaul the way it's funded, and claims the current system risks impeding the work it can do.

The data privacy watchdog used the release of its 2013/14 annual report to bang the drum for the work it does, and revealed how it's handling an increased workload despite recent funding cuts.

According to the report, the ICO received a record number of complaints in 2013/14, including 15,492 relating to data protection issues, which is 10 per cent higher than the previous year.

It also resolved 5,296 Freedom of Information Request complaints, which is 12 per cent more than in 2012/13, despite facing a five-year long cut to its funding in this area.

The ICO said the figures highlight the amount of work that goes into protecting the data of UK citizens, which regularly comes under attack from public and private sector organisations.

As an example of this, the ICO flagged Google's "right to be forgotten" ruling, the communication issues that dogged the NHS's care.data programme and Facebook's recent newsfeed-tampering experiment.

Speaking at the launch of the report, the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said the aforementioned cases highlight why the ICO is needed.

"It is clear that organisations' use of data is getting ever more complicated. People need to know someone is watching over their information," he said.

"That needs to be someone who's independent, of government and business, so the public know the regulator can be trusted."

As a result, it's calling on the Government for better funding so that it can continue to carry out the work it does to a high standard, having focused its efforts on making operational efficiencies in recent years.

"The ICO needs stronger powers, a more sustainable funding system, and a clearer guarantee of independence," the report states.

"We need to be able to audit any and all data controllers and public authorities for compliance with information rights laws.

"Productivity and efficiency at the ICO are impressive and this year's report shows further progress in delivering better for less'. But, a new and better funding model for information rights is now urgently required."

It is clear that organisations' use of data is getting ever more complicated. People need to know someone is watching over their information.

At the moment, the resolution of the organisation's FOI complaints is funded by grant-in-aid contributions from the Ministry of Justice, while its data protection work is covered by notification fees.

But, looking ahead, the ICO claims this funding system is unsustainable in the long-term, and currently impedes on the level of work it can do.

"The apportionment of office overheads between the two funding streams means that we are held back from doing all we could on data protection because of the perverse impacts on our restricted Freedom of Information budget," the report continues.

"There will in any case need to be a new means of funding our data protection work when the new EU Regulation is finally settled."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.