Record number of data protection complaints made in last year (Wired UK)


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A report
published today
has revealed that a record number of data
protection complaints were dealt with by the UK’s Information
Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the last year.

Complaint casework was up nearly 10 percent, with completed
cases clocking in at 15,492. The ICO handles complaints regarding
private and public sector handling of personal data. The body is
also responsible for processing some requests under the Freedom of
Information Act.

By far the largest category for complaints was “subject access”,
which is when individuals feel they have been unjustifiably denied
access to data about themselves. This accounted for half of all
complaints received. A wide variety of organisations were the
subject of complaints, from educational services to local health
providers, though it was lenders (17 percent) and local government
(12 percent) who accounted for the most grievances.

Simon Rice, the ICO’s Group Manager for Technology, told
Wired.co.uk that in some areas there was a culture of organisations
not taking subject access requests from data subjects
seriously.

“Organisations will sometimes think, ‘oh that’s fine, we’ll just
write a letter back’ and not provide the information or not provide
the full information,” he explained.

He went on to note that, should the ICO’s duties continue to
grow and its funding continues to fall, some of the services
currently offered may face being cut altogether. Their helpline,
for example, answered a quarter of a million calls last year, but
is not actually a service that the ICO is legally obligated to
provide.

“There’s nothing in law that says we must operate a telephone
line,” said Rice, “so we’d have to look at those services which
aren’t our statutory duty and decide whether or not we can really
afford them with the money that we have.”

It’s a fear which echoed by the Information Commissioner
himself, Christopher Graham, in his foreword to the report. “Our
grant-in-aid from the Ministry of Justice, which has been cut in
every year since I became Information Commissioner in 2009, is
simply not adequate for us to do the work we could and should be
doing,” he wrote.

Some of the ICO’s money gets spent on investigations into data
protection breaches. These can include cases of criminal
wrongdoing, such as the leisure centre worker who obtained
sensitive medical details for nearly 2,500 people. They were fined
£3,000 as well as a £15 victim surcharge and prosecution fees
totalling £1,376.50.

Other investigations had implications for local authorities and
policies which affected citizen privacy. In Royston, for example,
the ICO found that Hertfordshire Constabulary had been heavy-handed
in its implementation of an automatic number plate recognition
system.

The technology relied on surveillance cameras and, as the report
notes, “it was impossible to drive into the town without being
recorded.” The ICO’s intervention resulted in most of the cameras
being removed.

In a statement, Emma Carr, acting director of Big Brother Watch,
pointed out that the continued growth of digital services and big
data also means that the ICO increasingly has its work cut out.

“The amount of data being collected multiplies on a year by year
basis thanks to the internet, which itself presents unique
challenges to those tasked with carrying out a data protection
role,” she said.

“It is therefore essential that the Commissioner is given
adequate powers to enforce the Data Protection Act, whilst
acknowledging that the Commissioner’s role and the Act itself may
need to evolve to reflect the issues associated with big data.”

Wired.co.uk has noticed that the report states that the
Information Commissioner’s total pay has increased by around 40
percent (£40,000) in the last year whereas the total pay received
by other executives has mostly fallen. We have asked the ICO for
the reason behind this but have not yet received an
explanation.

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Source: wired.co.uk
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