22 July 2010

UK told to get tougher on data protection law

Kenneth Mullen
Partner | UK

The UK government has been warned by the EU commission that it must strengthen its data protection laws or risk legal action being taken against it in the European Court of Justice for failing to fulfil its obligations under European law.

Comparing current regulator, the Information Commissioner (ICO), to ‘a guard dog tied up in the basement' the EU's Justice Commissioner said that the UK Data Protection Act (DPA) must be amended ‘_swiftly_' to enable the ICO to perform its enforcement duties with absolute certainty.

The Commission has a number of reservations but seems especially concerned about the ICO's inability to give prior scrutiny to overseas data transfers or spot check organisations' data processing activities with follow-up powers to punish non-compliance.

In April, the UK introduced new penalties for the most serious breaches of the DPA. As a result, organisations can now be fined up to £500,000 GBP if a violation is likely to lead to substantial damage or distress. Despite this, the Commission still seems unhappy with a number of aspects of the UK's enforcement regime such as the UK courts' powers to refuse individuals the right to have data about themselves corrected or deleted.

With the Commission threatening to deal with the issue ‘_vigorously_', the UK has until August to respond to its demands or face the prospect of legal action in the European Court.

The development comes at a time when the ICO has reported a 30-percent rise in data protection complaints and information requests over the last year. The UK Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has also recently made a Call for Evidence, requesting interested individuals', private organisations', charities' and public authorities' views on the impact of EU and UK data protection legislation (more information is available on the Ministry of Justice website).

The MOJ consultation is part of a wider EU review of data protection rules with negotiations on a new Directive likely to begin in 2011.

The MOJ consultation is open for comment until 6 October 2010.

Category: Article