New Zealand privacy watchdog John Edwards chosen as next information commissioner

Government chooses preferred candidate to replace Elizabeth Denham
Information commissioner-to-be John Edwards. Photo: Doc Searls/CC BY 2.0

By Sam Trendall

27 Aug 2021

The Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport has announced that New Zealand privacy commissioner John Edwards is set to become the UK’s next information commissioner.

Edwards has been chosen as the preferred nominee for the regulatory role, which is set to be vacated in October when incumbent Elizabeth Denham ends her five-year stint in the hot seat. His appointment is subject to approval by the Digital, Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee.

Once this is granted, Edwards will leave his current position as privacy commissioner for New Zealand. He is currently part way through his second five-year term in post. Prior to taking on the statutory role in 2014, Edwards spent two decades as a practising lawyer in the country’s capital city Wellington.

The job he departs is similar to the one he will take on in this country; the privacy commissioner is responsible for ensuring the privacy of the personal data of New Zealand citizens is respected in accordance with the country’s laws.

In the UK, Edwards will lead the organisation that regulates a data-protection regime that is – at least in theory – newly independent from that of the EU for the first time. Ministers have spoken in recent months of their desire to foster an approach that is more supportive of innovation and a healthy data economy.

“The government wants to empower the information commissioner to promote the responsible use of data to stimulate innovation and economic growth and for Mr Edwards to bring a new perspective to the role alongside his wealth of data regulatory experience and 20-year career practising and specialising in information law,” DCMS said yesterday.

Edwards added: “It is a great honour and responsibility to be considered for appointment to this key role as a watchdog for the information rights of the people of the United Kingdom. There is a great opportunity to build on the wonderful work already done and I look forward to the challenge of steering the organisation and the British economy into a position of international leadership in the safe and trusted use of data for the benefit of all.”

Denham said that, if the appointment is ratified, her intended successor will “bring extraordinary breadth, international leadership and credibility to this role”. 

He would also sit at the head of “a modern, independent ICO that has the courage, resources and expertise to make a positive difference to people’s lives”, she added.

“Data-driven innovation stands to bring enormous benefits to the UK economy and to our society, but the digital opportunity before us today will only be realised where people continue to trust their data will be used fairly and transparently, both here in the UK and when shared overseas,” Denham said.

“My office has supported valuable innovation while encouraging public trust in data use, particularly during the pandemic. We stand ready to provide our expert advice and insight as part of any future government consultation. Implementing any changes parliament decides on will fall to my successor, who will take on a role that has never been more important or more relevant to people’s lives.”

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared

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