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ICO hit by internal data breach but watchdog coy on details

16 Jul 2014

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has admitted it suffered an internal data-loss incident, although it has not provided any details about what happened.

In the data watchdog's annual report, issued on Tuesday, it noted on page 46 that one "non-trivial" incident occured over the past 12 months, but said the matter had been dealt with and was considered closed.

The ICO said: "The incident was treated as a self-reported breach. It was investigated and treated no differently from similar incidents reported to us by others. We also conducted an internal investigation.

"It was concluded that the likelihood of damage or distress to any affected data subjects was low and that it did not amount to a serious breach of the Data Protection Act. A full investigation was carried out with recommendations made and adopted. The internal investigation was also concluded."

V3 contacted the ICO for more information on the incident but had received no reply at the time of publication.

Despite this in-house issue, the report from the ICO urged the government to free up more funding for its work as it faces more complex and challenging issues in an increasingly digital world.

In the data-protection and privacy watchdog's annual report, it noted that its case load is increasing all the time, despite its budgets being cut every year since 2009.

Overall the ICO handled 259,903 calls to its helpline and resolved 15,492 data-protection complaints, a rise, in both cases, of more than 10 percent since the previous financial year.

The report also noted its work tackling major issues such as the NHS’s plans, the Snowden spying scandal and cases involving major giants such as Facebook and Google as proof it is providing a valuable service the pubic needs.

Information commissioner Christopher Graham said it was clear how important the ICO was from this diverse case load.

“That needs to be someone who’s independent of government and business, so the public know the regulator can be trusted. Sometimes the state is itself the issue,” he said.

“When the Intelligence and Security Committee wanted to know how the Snowden revelations fitted with data-protection law, it was the information commissioner they turned to.”

However, Graham warned that he feels its importance is being diluted by a lack of funding and resources provided by government, via its sponsor department the Ministry of Justice.

“We’re effective, efficient and busier than ever. But to do our job properly, to represent people properly, we need stronger powers, more sustainable funding and a clearer guarantee of independence," he said.

"Our grant-in-aid from the Ministry of Justice, which has been cut in every year since I became information commissioner in 2009, is simply not adequate for us to do the work we could and should be doing to promote greater efficiency and accountability in the public service."

The MoJ said it regularly met with the ICO and would continue to discuss issues such as funding as required.

"The Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner's Office are working together to develop an appropriate funding model which will allow the ICO to fulfill its function as a modern information rights regulator," it said.

The report also noted the rise in fines being issued by the ICO, which totalled £1.97m for the year, driven by a record 1,755 data protection case. This marked an increase of 385 on the previous 12 months.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

View Dan's Google+ profile

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