Less than a week after the British government rushed legislation requiring telecom providers to hold customer data for up to 12 months to assist in government investigations, the country’s privacy watchdog has requested additional funding to handle “a mounting workload sparked by a series of controversies around data security and privacy,” according to a Guardian report.
Those controversies include the revelation of far-reaching surveillance programs, the so-called right to be forgotten, and continued worries about the effect new technologies can have on the right to privacy. It’s the Information Commissioner’s Office’s job to handle concerns about those problems, and according to its annual report, it needs more money and power to do so.
It’s not unusual for a government agency to desire more power. But it’s notable that ICO isn’t requesting that power just so it can protect consumers from technology companies — it’s also hoping to improve its ability to make sure intelligence agencies are complying with provisions meant to protect citizens while still allowing them to hunt for terrorists and other criminals.
ICO’s Christopher Graham explains its desire to restore public trust in government groups in the annual report’s foreword:
Upholding information rights in the public interest is what the ICO exists to do. But that must involve more than a traditional regulator’s enforcement role. Equally important to securing compliance with data protection and freedom of information law is our work educating organisations and individuals about their rights and responsibilities. We aim to empower citizens and consumers to assert their rights effectively. We seek to enable the development and delivery of new products and services, helping businesses and organisations to innovate without compromising privacy. And we strive to engage with the latest techniques and technologies – to make sure that the optimum balance is struck between privacy and openness.
Those efforts aren’t likely to make the office any friends in the intelligence community. But in a world where intelligence agencies can spy on anyone with a phone or Internet connection, it’s clear that groups hoping to defend people from undue spying from both the public and private sectors are going to become increasingly important in the fight to preserve personal liberty.