Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Information Commissioner's new powers arriving late: meanwhile UK fails to give all the protection it should

The two stories aren't related, but it has emerged today that the Commissioner's new powers to impose financial penalties (properly not called "fines", but hard to distinguish) on people who fail to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 won't be in place very soon, and also that the European Commission has sent a complaining letter to the UK on account of the government's failure to change the law to deal with a particular problem.

The new power to not-fine requires secondary legislation to be made under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. This is not the obvious place to look for a piece of law doing this: it has nothing (well, very little) to do with immigration and is definitely not criminal (which is why it is not a fine but a civil penalty), but we haven't had a nuanced approach to government in this country for many years. Of course, the Act itself doesn't do the job, it merely empowers a Minister to make the regulations, which almost certainly won't get anything remotely like Parliamentary scrutiny. This is British - or rather, New Labour - democracy in action: or, in this case, inaction, as it is reported that we aren't atually getting there anyway.

The second issue concerns the use of technology called Phorm to monitor what people get up to on line, with a view to exposing them to targeted advertising. The law has not, apparently (according to this article in the Wall Street Journal), been changed to deal with this, though I'd have thought the law already did what was necessary and it was enforcement that was failing.

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