Cross-Party Group of MPs challenge Information Commissioner over Data Protection failure

Cross-Party Group of MPs challenge Information Commissioner over failure to enforce Data Protection in the Test and Trace Programme 

In an unprecedented move, a cross-party group of more than 20 MPs have challenged the Information Commissioner over the regulator’s failure to enforce Data Protection standards and hold the Government to account.  

The move comes in the wake of the Westminster Government’s admission that the Test and Trace programme has been operating unlawfully.  

The MPs urged the UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, to properly act as a regulator and demand changes to the Test and Trace system, in order to establish public confidence that data is being processed safely and legally.  

Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group who have organised this letter said

“There is something rotten at the heart of the ICO that makes them tolerate Government’s unlawful behavior. The ICO is a public body, funded by the taxpayers, and accountable to Parliament. They must now sit up, listen, and act.  As a regulator, ICO must ensure that the Government upholds the law.  They must heed the lessons from what’s happened to Public Health England. The only way to avoid that fate is to enforce the law and discharge their legal responsibility properly.”  

Caroline Lucas MP, who is one of the signatories to the letter and raised the issue of data protection directly with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the Commons last month said: 

“Running a risk assessment on data protection is not an optional extra.  It’s a legal requirement and it’s essential if people are to be reassured that when they hand over their data to contact tracers, that data won’t be misused.  

“We will only get through this Covid pandemic if there is trust in ministers and in the systems they put in place.  That trust is already being stretched wafer thin.  If people are to have confidence in the test and trace system, there must be an assessment of the risk of data leaks and measures put in place to prevent them.”   

Liberal Democrat’s DCMS spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP who is one of the signatories to the letter said:  

“During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Government has seemingly played fast and loose with data protection measures that keep people safe. The public needs a data regulator with teeth: the ICO must stop sitting on its hands and start using its powers – to assess what needs to change and enforce those changes – to ensure that the government is using people’s data safely and legally.”   

SNP’s DCMS spokesperson John Nicholson who is one of the signatories to the letter said: 

“This Government is currently envisaging further changes to the Test and Trace programme. We desperately need the ICO to enforce the law. A weak regulator failing to hold the Government to account risks the health and safety of people in Scotland and whole of the UK. Failure to deal with privacy concerns endangers public health. The Government and the ICO both need to take this very seriously.”  

Labour MP Clive Lewis who is one of the signatories to the letter said: 

“The ICO needs to act to ensure the Johnson government stops playing fast and loose with people health and safety. The Johnson government brought this programme forward more quickly than was practical, and we are all paying the consequences.  Privacy is fundamental to trust. The ICO must investigate and force the Government to fix the problems, to avoid a wider breakdown in trust.” 

Notes to the Editor

  1. MPs letter to the ICO 
  2. Information Commission Office (ICO) is a public body accountable to Parliament. It is the UK’s national regulator responsible for data protection, privacy, and freedom of information. The current Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham has been in her position since 2016.