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Committee hears from next Information Commissioner

An uncorrected transcript of Christopher Graham’s evidence to the Justice Committee on 27 January has been published.

Q24 Alun Michael: Could you say something about your philosophy and your approach to the role? This role started off in data protection and has moved to a much more sophisticated and therefore more challenging brief over recent years. Having seen the way that has been developed, particularly in the accumbency of the current Information Commissioner, how do you see yourself taking that forward? What is your attitude to the issue of information, data management, sharing and retention?

Mr Graham: My first reaction is that a challenging job is getting even more challenging. There are new powers and duties, some already have been granted and some that are in the Bill that you are considering. In the course of 2009/2010 the Information Commissioner is going to have significant new powers, particularly on the data protection side and one hopes the resources to use those powers effectively. You asked what my overall approach is. First of all, that the organisation should be well led and well managed, that it should be effective and efficient. I think that is the sine qua non, it is the licence to practice. The Information Commissioner has got to demonstrate that he is delivering a service across the responsibilities of data protection and Freedom of Information and so on, that we can tackle the backlog of delays on the Freedom of Information side, for example, and win the respect of all stakeholders, which I think then gives the Information Commissioner the platform on which to contribute to public policy debates around data protection and Freedom of Information and so on. I would emphasise very much the importance of the education and information side with the enforcement and the sanctions as the big stick in the cupboard. It is important that everyone knows it is there and will be got out only if necessary. There is the huge task of education and helping people to comply, which has always been my approach with the Advertising Standards Authority. I am not particularly interested in waiting around the corner saying, “Aha, we’ve got you,” but that is necessary from time to time. It is much more important to put the resources in to making sure that public authorities and commercial organisations decide what their responsibilities are and they get on with it, but they have got to believe that if they get things wrong the Information Commissioner will be effective and will be prompt and, in addition to the reputational damage which necessarily arises from getting things wrong, there will be sanctions visited upon miscreants. And finally, my approach would very much be the need to convince the authorities and stakeholders in general of the absolute independence and integrity of the Information Commissioner. I think we achieve that by being absolutely evidence based, cool, calm, determined to defend decisions that are being properly arrived at, praised when necessary, but the first thing to do is to win the respect of all those who are interested in this area by manifestly running an effective operation at a time of great challenge and great change.

Read the full transcript.

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