In Elizabeth Denham’s first speech as Information Commissioner she emphasised that “It’s not privacy or innovation – it’s privacy and innovation.” We wholeheartedly agree.
Innovation frequently comes from being able to discover useful patterns in data through analysis. Often this data is about people and therefore carries with it important privacy concerns, but, crucially, identifying these patterns doesn’t require the individuals in the data to be identifiable as well. The key point is this; often what is useful can be separated from what is private. Privacy technologies enable businesses to extract greater utility from their data by producing safe, privacy preserving copies of the data which can then be used more widely without adding risk. The benefits of which include improving products and services and creating new revenue streams.
There’s a common misconception Denham is perhaps responding to that there is an inherent trade-off between privacy and innovation. That doesn’t need to be the case, because privacy technologies can enable innovation, whilst protecting customer’s privacy.
So we also welcome Ms Denham’s focus on technology as a key part of the solution. As she said in the introduction to The Anonymisation Decision-Making Framework, “It is essential that we continue to develop anonymisation and other privacy enhancing techniques as an antidote to the potential excesses of the big data era.” A point she repeated to me when I met her recently at an IAPP event. In our conversation, Ms Denham raised her intention to support research in the field of privacy technology and quickly went on to talk about her tech team and her intention to build their capacity.
We support the ICO being an organisation which doesn’t try to stop the tide of science, or see technology as the enemy. We want a regulatory body that strives to keep up with, and embraces, the rapid changes in privacy technology. So that guidance and enforcement stay relevant and practical. We’re pleased that, from what we’ve seen, that appears to be Ms Denham’s desire too.