EU wants UK to get tough on data protection

Time to let the guard dogs loose, says Viviane Reding

24 Jun 2010

The UK must toughen up when it comes to data protection and give more powers to the Information Commissioner, the European Commission has said.

The UK's data protection isn't strong enough to meet EU rules, as the ICO can't perform spot checks on organisations holding personal data and can only impose penalties under certain circumstances.

Having a watchdog with insufficient powers is like keeping your guard dog tied up in the basement

"Data protection authorities have the crucial and delicate task of protecting the fundamental right to privacy. EU rules require that the work of data protection authorities must not be unbalanced by the slightest hint of legal ambiguity. I will enforce this vigorously," said Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

"I urge the UK to change its rules swiftly so that the data protection authority is able to perform its duties with absolute clarity about the rules," she said. "Having a watchdog with insufficient powers is like keeping your guard dog tied up in the basement."

The EU also noted that UK courts can "refuse the right to have personal data rectified or erased," and doesn't compensate "moral damage" in data cases - courts only award payouts for proven financial damages.

An ICO spokesperson told PC Pro: "It is important that we have effective data protection regulation to help protect individuals' personal information. We look forward to discussing the Commission's detailed concerns with the Ministry of Justice and providing input into the UK Government's response."

Welcoming the EU's action, Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: "Data protection in the UK is weaker than it should be. Powers to fine and inspect private companies are vital."

"The new government has a great chance to strengthen UK law and make good on the coalition's desire to protect our citizen's privacy," he added.

The UK has two months to respond, but if the EU isn't satisfied with the response, it could take the UK to court.

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