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The UK information commissioner's internal blog 2010

The UK information commissioner's internal blog 2010

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Published by GuardianTech
Released through an FoI request: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_commissioner_message#incoming-139022
Released through an FoI request: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_commissioner_message#incoming-139022

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Published by: GuardianTech on Jan 07, 2011
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01/07/2011

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10 December
Christmas is coming and I’ve just picked up a copy of a British Library stocking fillerGrammar Land, featuring Dr Syntax and Judge Grammar. ‘Every land is Grammar Land;every man obeys its laws’, says the title page. Not sure about that. But help is at hand.The quiet coach on the train back from London is a good place to catch up with the latestedition of the ICO Style Guide.Good, clear and consistent writing is an important contributor to the way we presentourselves to our customers. If we come over as remote and bureaucratic in our letters andpublications we contradict the values for which we claim to stand. If we make simple andall too common mistakes of grammar and punctuation why should our stakeholders haveconfidence in our competence as regulators? And if we make a complicated subject evenharder to understand through impenetrable or confusing communications we’re doing theopposite of what we’re here to do.We all need to study the Style Guide – and stick to it. Should keep us out of trouble withJudge Grammar.
.Meanwhile, I’m preparing for another seasonal ritual – the annual ICO nativity play story.This year it’s been really big. I was recording something for ITV yesterday, and today Iwas interviewed on the Radio 4 Today programme. Obviously, the news release must havebeen clear and compelling.Still on the Christmas theme, it’s party time at the Slug and Lettuce this evening. See youthere.
24 November
I’ve just been meeting with freedom of information decision notice signatories and othersto review the position on our FOI caseload as we approach the final quarter of theperformance year. I am aware that the challenges facing us in terms of the caseloadhaven’t gone away. Appeals to the ICO keep on rising and we also need to be lean and fitto tackle some of the funding challenges in the future.It’s increasingly important that we make headway and keep pushing to improve theservice we provide, without sacrificing quality. To that end I will be chairing a FOICasework Project that will look to streamline how we deal with our FOI cases, with thegroup meeting monthly until at least the end of March 2011.We have agreed that the policy review can be reduced in certain cases, from 1 December2010, with clear criteria being drawn up for those cases that do require review. Whilst anautomatic review of all cases had strong value for the early years of the Freedom of Information Act, after five years experience with the legislation we are now be able take amore proportionate approach to what does and what doesn’t need a policy check.In addition to this, Ged Tracey has agreed to act as an overseeing mentor to all groupmanager signatories.We remain committed to year end targets of having no cases over one year old, and fewerthan 100 cases over six months old by 31 March 2011. These are milestones that we haveto achieve through being effective, good team workers, all working to one goal and beingfocused on delivery of quality outcomes. This is about demonstrating how the ICO valuesget real business results.
 
19 November
A really exciting end to the week, with two significant developments for the ICO – one dataprotection and one freedom of information. On the DP side, we succeeded in putting theGoogle saga to bed with an undertaking and agreement on our first compliance audit of abig multinational business. On FOI, we saw our patient work with the Cabinet Officebearing fruit with the announcement by Francis Maude that the FOIA will be used torequire the publication of usable data sets – what I’m calling FOI 2.0.The Enforcement and Good Practice teams negotiated the terms of the formal undertakingand Google’s Senior Privacy Counsel signed up to it overnight. I signed on behalf of theICO straight from the 1040 train from Euston. This is the first time we’ve got a bigmultinational business to submit to an ICO compliance audit so it’s a significant moment.Google has also agreed a programme of action to improve awareness and compliance withtheir privacy obligations, to apply to their operations worldwide.Early this morning I was at the Wellcome Foundation building on Euston Road where theGovernment was unveiling its approach to the proactive publication of data. Because wehave been closely involved with this initiative we were able to add our spin to thismorning’s announcement and, as a result, our line about ‘the next chapter for FOI’ wasrunning on Sky News before I’d even said it. I managed to get the point in as a responseto a question about how the rest of the public sector will be made to publishproactively. ‘Publication schemes, enforced by the Information Commissioner,’ I saidbefore dashing across the road for the Wilmslow train.Yesterday I did the rounds of some of the privacy campaigners who have been so criticalof us in recent weeks – Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, No2ID and PrivacyInternational. They have their job to do and we have ours. Advocacy and regulation aren’tthe same thing. But that’s not to say we cannot learn from each other and, on occasions,work in parallel.So lots to discuss with Management Board on Monday. Oh, and we moved house over lastweekend – so tonight I’ll be unpacking more crates at home in
[Redacted].
Busy orwhat?
28 October
A busy day in London with a morning of meetings at the Ministry of Justice. It starts firstthing with Minister of State Lord McNally. Then liaison meetings with the officials whomanage the relationship with the ICO. As well as exploring developments in thetransparency and accountability agenda, I'll be seeking more information on theimplications for us of the Comprehensive Spending Review. I'll be looking to find waysround some of the micro-managing restrictions we face. And I'll be exploring ways of making the Information Commissioner's independence more explicit.We met the trade unions this week to discuss the 2010 pay deal, overdue since July. We'retalking in the context of a public sector pay freeze. I want to get clarity from MOJ aboutthe operation of the pay freeze, and also about grant-in-aid funding for FOI over the nextfour years. If the Government wants us to do more we'll need the resources to do it.Then over in the Commons there's to be a backbench debate on the subject of the internetand privacy. I've been busy briefing MPs and ministers on the recent Google streetviewWiFi controversy. There's been some criticism of the ICO for letting Google off the hooktoo easily. That's unfair. We've been consistent from the outset about Google's accessingof personal information from unsecured WiFi routers. What we saw of what they collectedwas fragmentary and didn't amount to a significant amount of usable personal data but wehave always said we can use what other regulators' investigations have established todecide on our next regulatory steps. But hold your hats on for a couple of hours of rageagainst the regulator.
 
Then to the Home Office for discussions on the Government's interception modernisationprogramme, the proposal to require internet service providers to keep records of all email,text and mobile phone traffic - in case it's needed to solve crime or prevent terrorism. It'snot suggested that the messages themselves could be accessed by the authorities. Butwho's talking to who, where and when can be significant. The trouble is, are the privacysafeguards sufficient to overcome the concerns we raised over a year ago? I remain to beconvinced that the authorities have made the case.Tomorrow we'll be welcoming back some old friends to Wilmslow for the officialinauguration of our new building. Doing the honours for the landlord will be the local MPGeorge Osborne, who just happens to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. FormerCommissioners Eric Howe and Liz France will be joining us, as will former non-executivemember of the Management Board David Clarke and two of our current NEDS, Neil Masonand Enid Rowlands. Watch out too for recently retired Assistant Commissioner Phil Jones.We're a bit thin on the ground what with half-term and the international data protectionconference going on in Jerusalem. Please help the ICO to give a good impression to ourguests. Naturally, we'll be showing our visitors who we are and what we do. Anopportunity to showcase a modern, efficient and effective regulator, at the forefront of developments in technology, focused on our customer and stakeholders, and up to speedon the public policy issues around transparency and accountability.We might even get T.S. Eliot's spelling right by Friday. If not, it's a question of spot thedeliberate mistake.
Chris
 
20 October
The Chancellor George Osborne has been unveiling the details of the ComprehensiveSpending Review (CSR), described as the biggest programme of public spending cuts fordecades. This is how the ICO is placed following today’s news.Three-quarters of the ICO’s income comes from notification fees paid by data controllers.These pay for our data protection work. But we also receive grant-in-aid from the Ministryof Justice (MOJ) for our freedom of information responsibilities. We have to keep the twostreams of income separate, although our overheads are ‘apportioned’ between FOI andDP.In 2010/11, we have baseline funding from the MOJ of £5 million plus an additional £0.5million to help us address the FOI backlog. We’ve already had to lop off £160k of thisfollowing the emergency budget. Any further savings we can make this year can be carriedforward against the anticipated cuts required over the four years 2010/11 to 2013/14. Bycontrast, our income from notification fees is forecast to be some £15 million.We do not have a figure yet for how much we shall need to save from grant-in-aid overthe period. But we do know that the MOJ was one of the losers in the CSR – with anaverage 6% to be saved each year for four years – while some other departments werespared the worst of the cuts. That said, we are a pretty small minnow in the MOJ pond.It’s important to remember that our DP income continues to grow and the tierednotification fee has given us the resources to carry out our expanded responsibilities. Sowe are in a better position today than many equivalent public bodies.Nevertheless, we have to plan for how the ICO can navigate the choppy waters ahead.My ET colleagues and I have been thinking ahead to enable the ICO to respond to today’sdevelopments.

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