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 John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner

11 April 2022

“Share your data if you’re looking for a wee stalker”.

That was the response by a child from Edinburgh when asked about sharing too much personal information online. Others saw content that promotes self-harm and suicidal thoughts without searching for it. Another was sent inappropriate adverts when they are playing online games.

This is the backdrop to the introduction of our Children’s Code, a crucial piece of work to make sure that children can safely use online services. The code came into force in the UK last year, and is already prompting tech companies to make changes to better protect children.

But we knew from the moment we started drafting our code that its value in keeping children safe would depend on how the code was received internationally. The digital world is borderless, and so many of the online services children access are based outside of the UK.

That is why we were so pleased to see that California is now looking to introduce a children’s code of its own, with progress too in Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Canada and Australia. The more other countries require companies to protect children’s data, the more children in the UK are protected. That is why the ICO was in San Francisco two years ago, speaking with lawmakers, to encourage them to be inspired by our code.

That is one of the reasons why we’ll be in Washington this month.

We’ll be talking to companies in scope of the code and building relationships with the regulators, civil society voices and lawmakers that collectively push for them to do better. We’ll be sharing our experiences of creating a first of its kind statutory code, with Unicef and US lawmakers, among others. And we’ll be listening too on what we can do to strengthen protection of UK people and bring certainty for business.

President Biden talked of protecting children in his recent State of the Union address saying ‘while technology platforms have improved our lives in some ways, there is mounting evidence that social media is harmful to many kids’ and teens’ mental health, well-being, and development.’

And US Senators are urging big big tech companies to extend the standards and protections in the UK Children’s code to children in the US who use their services.

We want to continue to support change that protects children in the UK. The ICO has always played an influential role in international data protection, both as a regulator of a large economy and as a key voice in international privacy discussions. Data protection works behind the scenes influencing trade deals, civil liberties and confidence in fair elections.

Post Brexit, we can be more fleet of foot, showcasing the UK as a beacon for innovation and business growth alongside a high level of protection for people’s rights.

As the ICO regulates all companies operating in the UK or targeting UK residents, wherever they are in the world, we have an opportunity to lead changes internationally that bring real benefits for the UK. Our international work in Washington and beyond has never been more important.

John Edwards is the UK Information Commissioner.