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Government confirms plans to consult on future of data protection regime, role of Information Commissioner’s Office

The Government has confirmed that it will consult in the coming weeks on the future of the UK’s data protection regime, saying it wants to “make it even more ambitious and innovation-friendly while still being underpinned by secure and trustworthy privacy standards”.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said the Government also “believes improved data sharing can help deliver more agile, effective and efficient public services and help make the UK a science and technology superpower”.

Confirmation of the consultation came as the DCMS also unveiled its favoured candidate for the next Information Commissioner and its intention for global data partnerships with the US, Australia and the Republic of Korea.

The DCMS said the consultation would be on changes to break down barriers to innovative and responsible uses of data “so it can boost growth, especially for startups and small firms, speed up scientific discoveries and improve public services”.

The consultation is expected to include the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) “so it can be empowered to encourage the responsible use of data to achieve economic and social goals as well as preventing privacy breaches before they occur”.

New Zealand Privacy Commissioner John Edwards has meanwhile been unveiled as the Government’s preferred candidate to be the UK’s next Information Commissioner.

“As Information Commissioner and head of the UK regulator responsible for enforcing data protection law, he will be empowered to go beyond the regulator’s traditional role of focusing only on protecting data rights, with a clear mandate to take a balanced approach that promotes further innovation and economic growth,” the DCMS said.

The DCMS said Mr Edwards would bring a new perspective to the role alongside his data regulatory experience and 20-year career practising and specialising in information law.

“His experience overseeing an independent country’s unique data regime also deemed ‘adequate’ to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be vital,” it said. “He will be able to help the UK achieve its aims of maintaining equivalence with the EU’s data standards, so personal data can continue to flow freely, while developing a new pro-growth approach to data law.”

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Now that we have left the EU I’m determined to seize the opportunity by developing a world-leading data policy that will deliver a Brexit dividend for individuals and businesses across the UK.

“That means seeking exciting new international data partnerships with some of the world’s fastest growing economies, for the benefit of British firms and British customers alike.

“It means reforming our own data laws so that they’re based on common sense, not box-ticking. And it means having the leadership in place at the Information Commissioner’s Office to pursue a new era of data-driven growth and innovation. John Edwards’s vast experience makes him the ideal candidate to ensure data is used responsibly to achieve those goals.”

Mr Edwards said: “It is a great honour and responsibility to be considered for appointment to this key role as a watchdog for the information rights of the people of the United Kingdom.

“There is a great opportunity to build on the wonderful work already done and I look forward to the challenge of steering the organisation and the British economy into a position of international leadership in the safe and trusted use of data for the benefit of all.”