The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

A blog by Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner

28 January 2021

Amid a busy start to 2021, Data Protection Day provides an opportunity to step back and reflect on the continued lifting of data protection standards around the world.

January 28 was selected by the Council of Europe for this annual awareness day in recognition of the date that Convention 108 was first opened for signature in 1981. The convention is a commitment to a set of baseline standards around data protection and privacy. And the convention’s value has grown as its reach has increased, with ever more countries committing to protecting citizens’ rights as the years have gone by.

International privacy standards are so valuable in our increasingly borderless digital world. Firstly, they provide UK citizens with reassurance that their data is protected when they use apps or services provided by companies outside of the UK. And secondly, by agreeing baseline standards we grow the global digital economy and provide opportunities for UK innovators.

Today I am speaking at an event with the World Bank, where I will be pointing to the role that international organisations can play in driving high privacy standards around the world.

I see through my work chairing the Global Privacy Assembly how we all benefit where countries have strong and independently-regulated data protection laws. International organisations like the World Bank could support that work, through their influence in countries that may not yet have data protection laws.

We already see international organisations encouraging environmental rights, transparency and equal opportunities. What stops us extending it to privacy? This would not only reflect the value of data protection rights to individuals, but also understand the impact such rights have on the trust and confidence that is so crucial to innovation and economic growth.

It is an idea that I believe warrants more thought and discussion. And I hope the ICO can be part of bringing together the right organisations to discuss this opportunity further.

Imagine what that could achieve, not only in supporting developing nations, but also in ‘building back better’ in all countries, as we respond to the impact of the pandemic.

It is an ambitious idea, but so was Convention 108. Data protection day, of all days, feels like an appropriate time for such international ambition.

Elizabeth Denham was appointed UK Information Commissioner on 15 July 2016 and her term ended on 30 November 2021.