Back to work after the Christmas and New Year break – and back to Leveson. The judge’s report on his ‘Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press’ runs to four volumes, rather like the old London telephone directory and of similar size and weight. Since publication in late November, we at the ICO have been studying the report, absorbing its lessons, and working out what to do in response.
Leveson concerns the ICO for a number of reasons. First of all, it was the Information Commissioner who first blew the whistle on the unlawful trade in personal information, and Fleet Street’s part in it, in the What Price Privacy ? reports to Parliament back in 2006. It was the ICO’s action against a private detective agency in 2003 that began Operation Motorman. Lord Justice Leveson deals with Motorman at length – and concludes that the ICO could and should have made greater use of its regulatory powers to tackle press misbehaviour, although he also agrees, in some respects at least, (Part H, 5.10) with my contention that ‘we are the good guys’ of the story.
2003 and 2006. It’s all a long time ago. And today’s ICO is immeasurably stronger, better resourced, and better supported with statutory powers than it was a decade ago. But all organisations benefit from paying attention to criticism – and learning from it. In our response to Leveson, the ICO sets out our initial thinking and proposes a work plan for addressing the points raised in the report.
Of the judge’s 92 recommendations, nine are addressed to the Information Commissioner directly. A further ten recommendations, addressed to the Ministry of Justice, concern matters that are very much the ICO’s business. Three further recommendations to Government would also impact on the ICO.
Of course, the other 70 recommendations are also of great consequence – for the press, politicians and the police. And that’s where the debate will centre over the coming months. But it is also true that Leveson’s blueprint for the future regulation of the press would include a clear role for the ICO as the statutory regulator for data protection. We shall work with the Ministry of Justice and with press and broadcasting authorities to work through what now needs to be done.
The sections of the report relating directly to the ICO or impacting on it feature in Parts H and J in Volume III of Lord Justice Leveson’s report – the equivalent of the green L – R section of the old phone book. I anticipate many long and arduous telephone conferences as the new regulatory landscape takes shape in 2013.
|Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner, has a range of responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and related laws.|