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Conservatives launch proposals to strengthen independence and powers of Information Commissioner

Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve and shadow Justice Minister Eleanor Laing are today (16 Sept) launching a policy paper Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State. The paper, which includes 11 measures to protect personal privacy and hold government to account, also includes proposals to strengthen the powers and independence of the Information Commissioner:

The Information Commissioner has proved one of the bulwarks against the rise of the surveillance state, providing early warnings and technical advice on the growing concerns over data security. However, the current role is limited and could be strengthened to ensure the Information Commissioner has the necessary independence and powers to hold government to account. In due course, we will also be examining the Information Commissioner’s role in overseeing the Freedom of Information system, in light of our commitment to radical reform to achieve far greater transparency in public sector spending and wider governance.

At this stage, we propose that the following reforms:

• The Information Commissioner will be appointed by Parliament rather than the Ministry of Justice.

If the Information Commissioner is to be an effective guardian of the public interest against privacy intrusions by government, he cannot be appointed by government.

We will consult on the detail of the appointment process and organisational structure, based on the operational experience of analogous models including the Electoral Commission, Parliamentary Ombudsman and other bodies.

This would bring appointment of the UK Information Commissioner into line with that of the Scottish Information Commissioner, who is appointed by the Scottish Parliament. It would also implement a recommendation from the Justice Committee, which has recommended in two reports that the Information Commissioner become directly responsible to, and funded by, Parliament to protect the independence of the role.

UPDATED: Dominic Grieve’s speech is here.

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