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Data privacy watchdog reports 10% workload increase

Published time: July 15, 2014 14:59
Reuters / Kacper Pempel

Reuters / Kacper Pempel

From Google Street View to nuisance calls, Britain’s chief data protection agency is reporting a record number of cases involving the unlawful use of personal data.

The latest annual report from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) shows its workload has swelled, as data protection and freedom of information (FOI) complaints spike in the wake of the Snowden leaks, ‘the right to be forgotten’ and the ‘care.data’ scare in the health services sector.

In total, the ICO was found to have handled 259,903 calls to its helpline and had resolved 15,492 data protection complaints, a rise, in both cases, of over 10 percent on the previous financial year.

These cases resulted in 1.97 million pounds (US$338 million) worth of fines to companies found to have breached data protection rules, as well as 12 criminal convictions and two cautions for individuals who had unlawfully obtained or used personal information.

The ICO has also decided on 5,296 FOI complaints, a 12 percent rise on last year’s figure, and received 161,720 reports from people concerned about spam texts and nuisance calls.

A large amount of complaints arose around the data practices of social networks, including investigating a psychology study conducted by Facebook, (LINK) and the recent EU ruling on the right to have entries removed from Google's search results as part of their ‘right to be forgotten’.

Google has come under particular scrutiny for their capturing of personal data and for photographs taken for the Street View facility.

For the past five years, however, the ICO has faced a reduction in its funding for FOI, while the proposed EU data protection reforms would remove the notification fee that funds the ICO’s work under the Data Protection Act.

The ICO report warns that an independent regulator, overseeing the handling of people’s personal data, has never been so important, and that more powers and funding would be necessary.

“Facebook, care.data, Google: it is clear that organizations’ use of data is getting ever more complicated. People need to know someone is watching over their information,” said the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, at the report launch.

“That needs to be someone who’s independent, of government and business, so the public know the regulator can be trusted. Sometimes the state is itself the issue. When the Intelligence and Security Committee wanted to know how the Snowden revelations fitted with data protection law, it was the Information Commissioner they turned to.”

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