The UK’s privacy watchdog has received a record number of complaints from people increasingly worried about how their personal data are being used.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said it had resolved 15,492 data protection complaints in the past financial year, a rise of almost 10 per cent from the previous period, with a similar rise in the number of calls to its helpline. A further 161,000 reports were made by people concerned about spam texts and nuisance calls.
Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, called for better funding and greater independence for the body to handle a “brave new world of both digital opportunities and digital threats”.
He said “a new and better ‘funding model’ for information rights is now urgently required” given that the grant from the ministry of justice has been cut every year since he took on the role in 2009.
“Parliament needs to get on with the task of establishing a single, graduated information rights levy to fund the important work of the ICO as the effective upholder of our vital right to privacy and right to know,” he said.
The rise in complaints about how personal data are handled comes as regulators have made companies take steps to be upfront with how they hold and use such information.
Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice established a legal “right to be forgotten” to give greater control over online history, for example, which was quickly adopted by Google.
The highest number of complaints over personal data use were made against lenders, however, rather than technology groups. Local government and central government both featured in the top five sources of the most complaints, with a particular problem around the disclosure of personal data in error.
During the year, for example, the ICO took action against Hertfordshire Constabulary about the use of automatic number plate recognition equipment around Royston. It also stepped in when the Staffordshire Police publicised details of drivers charged with drink driving on Twitter.
The group, which disclosed the figures in its annual report, investigated a record 1,755 data protection cases in the 2013/15 financial year – an increase of 385 – that resulted in £2m of fines, seven enforcement notices and 28 undertakings.
Analysts said consumers were increasingly trying to take control of their data. “The major stories over the past year, from WikiLeaks to Google’s ‘right to be forgotten’, have resulted in an inevitable heightened awareness of the use – and misuse – of personal data,” said Richard Goold, executive director at Moorhouse, a consultancy. “If businesses do not behave well towards their customers and mistakes are made, they risk tighter regulation.”
The ICO also received more than 161,000 complaints about spam calls and other nuisance communications, which was broadly the same as the year before. The majority of calls related to PPI and claims management, debt management and green energy deals.