Ministers have called in consultants to review the powers of Britain’s privacy watchdog, amid concerns it is too feeble to take on Google and Facebook.
Officials are working with the New York-based Oliver Wyman on options to expand the remit and resources of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), after doubts were expressed last year about whether it could tackle “Big Tech”.
Oliver Wyman declined to comment. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and ICO confirmed the appointment but declined to provide further information. A spokesman for ICO said the audit was part of a routine, planned review.
Oliver Wyman’s role marks the first external review of ICO by DCMS since the overhaul of Britain’s data protection laws – as well the introduction of stricter privacy laws across the European Union – two years ago.
Despite the stricter laws, an inquiry by MPs last year concluded that the rules do not go far enough in protecting internet users and their data. Their report called for a review into whether ICO is fit for purpose.
The regulator, which last year admitted that its own website fell short of EU-wide privacy standards, has been accused of being too reliant on disclosures of online breaches, rather than actively policing the industry.
Politicians also flagged ICO’s limited resources, compared to the companies it is expected to regulate. In 2018, the watchdog had a budget of just over £40m, while Google’s 2018 earnings reached £1.4bn in the UK alone.