Richard Thomas: Individuals value their privacy - institutions do not

Share

Privacy matters now more than ever. Research by my office – the Information Commissioner's Office – published earlier this month highlighted that nine out of 10 people are concerned that organisations do not treat their personal information properly. People also rank protecting personal information as the second most important social issue – perhaps surprisingly ahead of the environment and the NHS.

Incidents such as the security breach at HM Revenue and Customs reinforce the importance and necessity of data protection – or people protection as I prefer to call it. The Data Protection Act sets out the framework for how organisations should process and manage personal information – follow the principles of the Data Protection Act and you will retain the trust and confidence of the public. Allow personal information to leave secure buildings and get lost in the post and the public will rightly want an explanation.

For some time I have been pressing the Government to give my office stronger powers under the Act to audit and inspect organisations that process people's personal information without first having to get their consent. Ultimately this will ensure better compliance with the law and protect people's data. The Prime Minister announced yesterday that my staff will be able to spot-check government departments. We will work with the Ministry of Justice to confirm the detail on this – what we need are full audit and inspection powers, and not just for government departments, but for every organisation, public and private, that processes people's personal information. It is essential that we are properly resourced to carry out this new function.

It is also important that the law is changed to make significant security breaches – where they are reckless or repeated – a criminal offence. At the moment I can take limited enforcement action, but making deliberate and systematic data breaches a criminal offence would serve as a strong deterrent and would send a very strong signal that it is completely unacceptable to be cavalier with people's personal information. Committing a criminal offence is a strong deterrent and means that more organisations will comply with the law. The Data Protection Act needs to be changed urgently so that people's personal details are properly protected.

High standards of security and records management are essential if companies and public authorities are to retain the trust and confidence of those who use their services. While the majority of organisations process personal information appropriately it is imperative that all organisations, large and small, take the protection of individuals' information more seriously.

Our research shows that individuals are now more aware of their rights under the Data Protection Act than ever before. Individuals value their personal information so careless and inexcusable breaches of their personal details are clearly unacceptable. Earlier this year, I highlighted a horrifying roll call of organisations which have admitted serious security lapses and I called for every organisation to take privacy far more seriously. Alarm bells must now ring in every boardroom. Data protection safeguards must be technically robust and idiot proof. Protecting the public's personal information will no doubt become a more significant priority.

Richard Thomas is the Information Commissioner; ico.gov.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I’m not sure I fancy any meal that’s been cooked up by a computer

John Walsh
Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his party's plans for the NHS, in Sale, on Tuesday  

Why is Miliband fixating on the NHS when he’d be better off focussing on the wealth gap?

Andreas Whittam Smith
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall