UK: UK Update - Information Commissioner's Priorities

Last Updated: 7 June 2019
Article by Shaun McMullen, Richard Danks and Tatiana Kruse

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), responsible for administering the GDPR and privacy laws in the UK, has published its Regulatory Action Policy, setting out its objectives and priorities for the coming years. It aims to "create an environment" to protect individuals while, at the same time, ensuring that business can "operate and innovate efficiently in the digital age".

Enforcement objectives

Not surprisingly in view of recent data breaches and media scandals, the ICO will focus on violations involving highly sensitive information, affecting large groups of people, or affecting vulnerable people. It will target repeat, wilful and serious miscreants. It will take into account the steps taken by the business to mitigate harm and the manner in which the violation came to its notice.

It will take particular interest in breaches involving novel issues and technologies and a high degree of intrusion – pay attention to those Data Protection Impact Assessments!

Policy objectives

The aims to be proactive in identifying and mitigating emerging risks "arising from technological and societal change" – think AI and (again) targeted content on social media platforms.

The areas the ICO has "actively identified" as raising potential risks to individuals, and where it will take "proactive action" to study and head off risks in the next year, are listed below. The ICO will concentrate resources accordingly.

  • Large scale data and cyber security breaches involving financial or sensitive information
  • AI, big data and automated decision making
  • Web and cross device tracking for marketing (including for political purposes).
  • Privacy impacts for children (including Internet of Things connected toys and social media/marketing apps aimed at children)
  • Facial recognition technology applications
  • Credit reference agencies and data broking
  • Use and sharing of law enforcement data, including intelligence systems
  • Right to be forgotten/erasure applications.

In practice?

The ICO is currently consulting with industry in relation to the Adtech and the electronic advertising ecosystem which, it has indicated, raises serious privacy concerns.

Our review of recent ICO decisions, and public press releases and statements, as well as our experience in dealing with the ICO, suggests that there are three broad areas where the ICO is particularly reactive and responsive to risk.

Nuisance marketing

The ICO publishes data quarterly, highlighting the volume of data subject complaints it has received. The volume of complaints drives some ICO enforcement priorities. During 2018, there was a significant focus on nuisance telephone marketing, and this remains an area of focus. The ICO receives between 3,500 and 4,500 complaints each month about nuisance telephone marketing (including live calls and robo-calls).

Marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes are governed in the UK by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which implement the e-Privacy Directive in the UK. Until these laws are replaced by the anticipated European e-Privacy Regulation, breaches attract maximum penalty of £500,000, lower than breaches of the GDPR. Expect fines to increase when the new regulation is introduced.

While the ICO has not identified nuisance marketing as a regulatory priority, we expect it will continue to be a key area, because of the volume of complaints by individuals. Not say, these can be low-hanging fruit. The ICO's enforcement strategy also includes disrupting the ability of individuals to set up companies or act as company officers, when they are associated with companies that knowingly breach PECR.

By contrast, the ICO has not been active in enforcing the cookie rules under PECR, as it has typically received fewer than one hundred complaints a month on this topic.


The ICO also publishes statistics on the number of breach notifications it has received. Before the GDPR, the ICO received around 700 notifications each quarter. By contrast in Q2 2018/19 (the most recent release) the ICO received notifications of 4,056 data security incidents.

The overwhelming majority of these notifications relate to disclosure of data. As said above, data breaches remain a key focus of action. Most recent fines, for personal data breaches, relate to breaches before the GDPR; however, on at least two occasions the ICO issued its then maximum fine of £500,000.

In our experience the ICO seems to triage data breach notifications and the response will depend on the perceived severity

Data subject rights

The ICO does not routinely publish statistics on the number of complaints about the exercise of data subject rights. However, in 2016, it noted that almost half of complaints received related to subject access requests and the difficulties people have accessing their information.

There is a particular risk that if several complaints are made about similar issues, the ICO will investigate the policies and procedures in place.


The ICO has provided guidance on the situation following Brexit. If the Withdrawal Agreement is accepted by the UK Parliament then the GDPR will continue to apply in the UK during the transition period (for how long will this be relevant?!). If a no-deal Brexit occurs:

  • The EEA is considered adequate so data flows from the UK to the EEA can continue.
  • Legacy safeguards such as standard contractual clauses will continue to be valid. These were issued by the European Commission and the ICO anticipates preparing updated UK standard contractual clauses.
  • The US-EU Privacy Shield is still a valid safeguard for data transfers providing the US entity updates the privacy policy to include the language specified by the US Department of Commerce.

The Information Commissioner has made interventions on the need for strong international cooperation and collaboration, given that global data flows produce shared issues in multiple jurisdictions.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions