9 December 2020

Elizabeth Denham CBE, The Information Commissioner, has been announced as the winner of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT’s prestigious Society Medal 2020.

The new annual award, from the professional body for the IT industry, recognises Ms Denham’s outstanding contribution to making digital technology good for society.

The judges cited her investigation into the unlawful data collection practices in political campaigns (including micro-targeting for marketing) which probed organisations including Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Leave EU.

The panel also noted: “The ICO’s joint investigation with the Australian Information Commissioner on Clearview's online scraping of biometric identification for a facial recognition app breaks new ground in being the first joint investigation with a non-EU state.”

The Institute for IT was also impressed by her leadership in helping organisations to understand data protection legislation.

Ms Denham was appointed UK Information Commissioner in July 2016. She set out a commitment to increase people’s trust in how their personal data is used. During that time, the ICO has worked to ensure that organisations are transparent with the public about how personal information is used, notably with high-profile investigations into Yahoo, Camelot, WhatsApp and Facebook.

A proponent of open data, Ms Denham has called for the proactive disclosure of records and published best practices for government ministries and public bodies. While at the ICO, she has called for the Freedom of Information Act to be extended to private bodies doing work on behalf of the public, and proposed a review of legislation around the duty to document information.

She was previously Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, Canada and Assistant Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Ms Denham said “Ethical and responsible use of information is crucial to so much of the work the ICO does. That could be looking at how organisations can innovate with data, whilst ensuring compliance with the law as part of our Sandbox, or encouraging openness by design within public bodies in our Freedom of Information work. Ethical use of data is what BCS’ Society Medal represents and why I’m proud to receive it not only for myself but on behalf of my colleagues across the ICO.

“The pandemic has brought an acceleration in the uptake of digital services that would otherwise have taken years; therefore, ensuring people can trust organisations’ use of their personal data is more important than ever. The ICO will continue to work with government and businesses to help them make changes and meet the standards embedded within UK law and represented by this award.”

Kathy Farndon, Chair of BCS Society Board said: “Elizabeth Denham is an inspirational individual who is committed to making digital technology and data work for the benefit of society.

“Under her leadership, the ICO has been able to embark on the most daunting cross-border investigations on the misuse of individuals' data. She is passionate about the ethical and safe collection, storage and use of data and has achieved a huge amount in her time in office.

Her nomination cited that: “She puts the public and protection of their data first and foremost, and supports business through the complexities of information law, from nuisance calls and rogue marketing emails, to serious security and data breaches.

“Her investigation into political microtargeting and data collection practices in two of the UK's referenda is the cornerstone of Parliamentary reports on political manipulation online. The attendant report, "Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence" is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about democracy in the age of online platforms.”

The BCS Society Medal is a new award which recognises an outstanding individual whose work and values have helped to enhance the reputation of digital technology and its contribution to improving our lives.

BCS Society Medal finalists were Margaret Ross MBE, Emeritus Professor of Software Quality at Southampton Solent University, Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Minister of Digital Governance, Hellenic Republic and Carsten Maple, Professor of Cyber Systems Engineering and Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor, University of Warwick and Elizabeth Denham CBE, UK Information Commissioner.

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