Elizabeth Denham will be our new Information Commissioner. Currently the Information and Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia, Canada, she was approved as our new Information Commissioner by the Culture, Media and Sport select committee at the end of April. Subject to final approval from Her Majesty The Queen she will take over from Christopher Graham in the summer of this year.
If the UK remains in the EU, she will be the first Information Commissioner to work under the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), a regulation which is likely to make a substantial impact on the way the UK’s information commissioner’s office operates. Denham will also be the first information commissioner to work under the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (the so called “Snoopers’ Charter”).
Here we identify some areas of interest in her work in information and privacy to date.
- By her own admission, "promoting information rights" has been Denham's top priority in her most recent role in British Columbia.
- Denham's willingness to challenge government both on freedom of information and data security/privacy issues has been widely noted amongst commentators. A columnist for the Vancouver Sun described her as "one of the most effective of all the independent watchdogs on government conduct".
- Denham released a high-profile report in October 2015 on how the Canadian Government handles and records information. Denham’s findings led to a government crackdown on the notorious practice of triple deleting e-mails to eliminate all traces from the documentary record. The report recommended that technology be installed to prevent employees from permanently deleting emails and legislation be created that would require the documentation of key government decisions. The report was prompted after a whistle-blower made an allegation that his supervisor deleted emails about the ‘Highway of Tears’ investigation into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
- She is a critic of what she terms as “oral government” within local government where business is undertaken verbally and without records. Ms Denham has raised concerns that this undermines the freedom of information system as it leaves little or no records of government decision making.
- She led a ground breaking investigation into the privacy practices of Facebook which highlighted a concern about the risks posed by the over-sharing of personal information with third-party developers of Facebook applications such as games and quizzes. Following the investigation Facebook agreed to add new privacy safeguards.
It will be interesting to witness how Denham’s interest in open data and open government will shape the UK’s data protection landscape over her 7 year tenure.