ICO issues update on regulatory approach during COVID-19 and beyond

July 15, 2020

The ICO has issued an update on its regulatory approach during the coronavirus pandemic.

The update sets out how the ICO will regulate during the current public health emergency, focusing in particular on data protection and freedom of information laws.

 The ICO has had to adjust its regulatory approach to reflect the fact that:

  • organisations are facing staff and operating capacity shortages;
  • a small number of health, local and central government, charities and law enforcement public authorities are facing front-line pressures and are re- deploying resources to meet those demands; and,
  • organisations are facing acute financial pressures affecting their finances and cashflows.

As a public authority, the ICO must act in a manner which takes into account these circumstances. This includes deciding how it exercises its enforcement powers, how it delivers technical advice and guidance to public and private sector organisations, how it supports transparency in public decision making and how it supports the public in dealing with their complaints and queries. The ICO acknowledges the important role that people’s information rights will continue to have, both around privacy protections and transparency around decision making by public bodies.

The ICO is committed to an empathetic and pragmatic approach:

  • It will continue to recognise the rights and protections granted to people by the law, both around their personal information and their right to freedom of information.
  • It will focus its efforts on the most serious challenges and greatest threats to the public.
  • It will assist front-line organisations in providing advice and guidance on data protection laws.
  • It will take firm action against those looking to exploit the public health emergency through nuisance calls or by misusing personal information.
  • It will be flexible in its approach, taking into account the impact of the potential economic or resource burden its actions could place on organisations.
  • It will be ready to provide maximum support for business and public authorities as they recover from the public health emergency.

The ICO has prioritised its services to provide additional guidance for organisations about how to comply with the law during the crisis. It aims to apply a flexible and pragmatic approach to its regulatory response during the crisis and will also be aware that some effects will be felt for a significant time at the conclusion of the emergency. This means that some flexibility will continue to be necessary in some areas for many months to come. The update also reflects its ability to now be able to carry out audits remotely.