ORG report criticises ICO performance during COVID-19 pandemic

25/05/2023 | Open Rights Group

The Open Rights Group has released a report shedding light on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) failures in safeguarding public privacy and data rights during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The report examined the data utilisation in Covid-19 health programmes, comparing the ICO's response against other European data protection authorities and UK regulators. The study also analysed the impact of proposed changes to data protection law and provided recommendations for the government and ICO.

Among the key finding the study revealed that the three public health programmes were implemented unlawfully and supported by negligent data governance. None of the programmes fully complied with the legal requirement for DPIAs as outlined in Article 35 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). No DPIAs were conducted before entering into agreements with providers on the Test and Trace and the Datastore programmes. 

In a damming assessment, the report claims the ICO acted as a “critical friend” and therefore failed to enforce the law, leading to programmes that fell short of important safeguards and data protection.

In a statement responding to the publication of the report, the ICO said that it "does not share the views in the Open Rights Group report. The ICO’s priority during the pandemic was to ensure organisations understood how data protection law could facilitate action at a time of emergency. The ICO achieved this by mobilising a dedicated task force and publishing prompt advice for organisations who were faced with using data in new ways..."

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