Tom Watson

Tom Watson: Need new way of regulating privacy in the UK

Credit: Danny Lawson/PA
The Labour MP at the centre of parliament's investigation into phone-hacking, Tom Watson, has recommended setting up a new umbrella body covering all privacy issues in the online age.

Speaking at the Leveson inquiry yesterday, Watson said society had "not reached a settled view" on personal privacy matters and that there was a need for "a go-to organisation" to advise parliament on public opinion on these matters.

He said: "I think one of the issues that people have been contending with this is on notions of personal privacy in the age of information abundance in the digital age, and as a society we've not reached a settled view on that, nor will we, I think, for some years to come, and it strikes me that there is a role for the various commissioners that in some way regulate the privacy in this country.

"It's not just the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office), but there's the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Information and the new Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

"It strikes me that there's a role for wrapping those functions up into a single body that could be a privacy commissioner and they would have the same powers but not more, other than an annual obligation to report to parliament on the illegal personal information market so that that can be monitored, but they could also do research and policy about notions of privacy and help provide social policy-makers form their decisions."

Watson added: "I think one of the dilemmas that your witnesses have is they have a different view of what is private and what is public, and that's partly because of the sort of disruptive power of the internet.

"We have a generation below me whose digital footprint has been sort of left for eternity now in a way that no other generation has had to contend with, and so we're going to be wrestling with these notions of privacy for years to come and there isn't really a body - a go-to organisation that is advising parliament on public opinion on this and changing opinions, and it strikes me that any future-proofing of reform might want to explore this route. I'm not saying give more powers to these commissioners; I'm just saying make them more coherent."

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