Christopher Graham, the UK Information Commiss...
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The Information Commissioner has called for powers to conduct compulsory data protection audits in local government, the health service and the private sector are needed to ensure compliance with the law, the Information Commissioner said today at the 10th annual data protection compliance conference in London.

Christopher Graham’s call came as figures showed that the ICO is being blocked from auditing organisations in sectors that are causing concern over their handling of personal information.

The only compulsory data protections audit powers the ICO currently has are for central government departments.  For all other organisations the ICO has to win consent before an audit can take place.

Data breaches in the NHS continue to be a major problem. Of the 47 undertakings the ICO has agreed with organisations that have breached the Data Protection Act since April, over 40% (19) were in the healthcare sector.

In addition, the most serious personal data breaches that have resulted in a civil monetary penalty occurred in the local government sector. Four of the six penalties served so far involved local authorities.

Businesses remain the sector generating the most data protection complaints. Despite this, as reported in July, just 19% of companies contacted by the ICO accepted the offer of undergoing an audit.

The ICO has written to 29 banks and building societies and so far only six (20%) have agreed to undergo an audit. The insurance sector has also shown reluctance in this area. Of the 19 companies contacted this year by the ICO, only two agreed to an audit.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham said:

“Something is clearly wrong when the regulator has to ask permission from the organisations causing us concern before we can audit their data protection practices. Helping the healthcare sector, local government and businesses to handle personal data better are top priorities, and yet we are powerless to get in there and find out what is really going on.”

“With more data being collected about all of us than ever before, greater audit powers are urgently needed to ensure that the people handling our data are doing a proper job. I am preparing the business case for the extension of the ICO’s Assessment Notice powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to these problematic sectors.”  

The Information Commissioner also used his speech at the conference to give a six month update on the ICO’s complaints handling performance.

Complaints about marketing texts, some of which are known as spam texts, have trebled in volume since 2008/9, and now account for approximately 13% of all data protection complaints to the ICO. Over 1,000 complaints have been received since April.

The overall number of new Data Protection (DP) complaints is up by 2% compared to the same period last year.

The number of Freedom Of Information (FOI) complaints has also risen by around 5%. The ICO has increased its output to match the increase and has closed a record number of FOI cases during the first half of the year. Closures on DP cases are also up.

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