On July 15, 2014, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) released its Annual Report for 2013/14 (the “Report”). Entitled Effective, Efficient – and Busier than Ever, the Report illustrates the rapid growth of data protection and freedom of information issues in the UK in the past year. It highlights the fact that the ICO has received increasing numbers of questions and complaints from members of the public, processed record numbers of cases, and issued its highest ever level of fines, totaling almost £1.97 million. The Report also emphasizes the fact that the ICO’s resources are stretched and, in a direct appeal to both the UK Parliament and the Ministry of Justice, calls for “stronger powers, a more sustainable funding system, and a clearer guarantee of independence.”
One area that did not follow the general upward trend was cookie enforcement. The total number of complaints received by the ICO regarding cookies in 2013 and 2014 fell almost 60% as compared to the previous year. This is likely to be a result of improved compliance from many online businesses, as well as the fact that there was far less media coverage of cookie laws in 2013 and 2014, following the coming into force of those laws in 2012.
Overall, the Report retains the pragmatic and broadly business-friendly approach that the ICO has taken in the past, calling for a continued focus on “helping businesses…to innovate without compromising privacy.”
Going forward, it appears unlikely that the ICO will see a significant increase in its funding at a time when UK government departments are generally seeing their budgets frozen or reduced, even as the ICO’s workload appears set to continue to rise. In particular, the European Court of Justice’s “Right to be Forgotten” ruling earlier this year has already triggered a large number of requests from individuals to Internet search engines to have certain information about them removed from search results, many of which may end up being referred to the ICO. The ICO is therefore likely to face continued pressure to handle a growing workload with limited resources.