ICO: Government needs to address political influencing together with other online harms

25/04/2019
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Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, says that she is disappointed that political campaigning and influencing is not addressed in the government’s White Paper on online harms.

Speaking in front of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Disinformation, she said that the paper is a huge step forward in identifying online harms, but there is a gap in terms of electoral interference and political advertising. “Considering the work that this Committee and the ICO has done in this field, it is concerning that the government has left this gap. I will make the ICO’s views known … The issue also needs to be addressed by Parliament.”

She said that the statutory code proposed by the ICO would go a long way in clarifying the rules for political parties and campaigns. Campaigning now takes place 365 days a year, and many new parties are not overseen by the Electoral Commission. However, Parliamentary time is hard to find in the current political situation.

The White Paper suggest a regulator to address online harms. Denham was asked whether the ICO was keen to take on this role. She said that regulating disinformation would be a huge task and might involve more than just one regulator. “Our investigations will help to set the weather on what appropriate and legal behaviour should look like. But we are not a content regulator.”

Any new body in this field should be able to share information with international partners and share information, tap into existing resources and establish Memorandums of Understanding with stakeholders.
Denham said that it is difficult to separate data protection and Internet harms but the White Paper "puts data protection in a box".

"Political parties and campaigns are now more concerned how personal data is used. But regulation is reactive – we only take action after the incident. The real question is how we fix the environment so that when these tools [political influencing] get more sophisticated – and they will – there is transparency," she said.

See the evidence session of 23 April at https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/4827004a-c905-4fa8-ab73-002108a8f1ab

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, and James Dipple-Johnstone, Deputy Information Commissioner, will speak at GDPR’s influence ripples around the world, PL&B’s 32nd Annual International Conference, 1-3 July at St. John’s College, Cambridge www.privacylaws.com/ac

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