ICO publishes guidance on privacy enhancing technologies

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published draft guidance on privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to help organisations unlock the potential of data by putting a data

protection by design approach into practice. 

PETs are technologies that can help organisations share and use people’s data responsibly, lawfully, and securely, including by minimising the amount of data used and by encrypting or anonymising personal information. They are already used by financial organisations when investigating money laundering, for example, and by the healthcare sector to provide better health outcomes and services to the public. 

The draft PETs guidance explains the benefits and different types of PETs currently available, as well as how they can help organisations comply with data protection law. It is part of the ICO’s draft guidance on anonymisation and pseudonymisation, and the ICO is seeking feedback to help refine and improve the final guidance. 

By enabling organisations to share and collaboratively analyse sensitive data in a privacy-preserving manner, PETs open up unprecedented opportunities to harness the power of data through innovative and trustworthy applications. The UK and US governments have launched a set of prize challenges to unleash the potential of PETs to tackle combat global societal challenges, supported by the ICO.

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said:  

“Although the use of PETs is in its early stages, it can unlock safe and lawful data sharing where people can enjoy better services and products without trading their privacy rights. In the UK, one example is the NHS building a system for linking patient data across different organisational domains. 

“Today’s draft guidance is part of my office’s strategy for the next three years, where we will be supporting the responsible use and sharing of personal information to drive innovation and economic growth. PETs have the potential to do that, so we look forward to hearing from industry and other stakeholders on how our guidance can help them achieve this.”  

The PETs draft guidance has been published ahead of the 2022 roundtable of G7 data protection and privacy authorities taking place in Bonn, Germany on 7-8 September, where the ICO will present its work on PETs to its G7 counterparts and encourage international agreement for the support of responsible and innovative use of PETs.

As part of this, the ICO will call for the development of industry-led governance, such as codes of conduct and certification schemes, to help organisations use PETs responsibly and to help PETs developers and providers to build the technology with data protection and privacy at the forefront. 

Mr Edwards said:

It’s not just regulators that need to take action – we need the industry to step up, too. We want organisations to come to us with codes of conduct and certification schemes, for example, to show their commitment to building services or products that are designed in a privacy-friendly way and that protect people’s data.”

Notes to Editors 

About the G7 2022 Regulator’s Roundtable

Under Germany’s 2022 G7 presidency, the German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Bundesbeauftragter für den Datenschutz und die Informationsfreiheit (BfDI), is convening a G7 data protection and privacy authorities roundtable in Bonn, Germany on 7-8 September 2022. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office held the first roundtable in September 2021.

Each G7 authority will present a specific technology or innovation issue of importance to the growing global economy where closer cooperation is needed.

The G7 data protection and privacy authorities consist of: 

  • Office of the Privacy Commissioner (Canada)
  • Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (France)
  • Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, BfDI (Germany)
  • Garante per la Protezione dei Dati Personali (Italy)
  • Personal Information Protection Commission, 個人情報保護委員会 (Japan)
  • Information Commissioner’s Office (UK)
  • Federal Trade Commission (United States of America)

About the Information Commissioner’s Office 

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. It has its head office in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and regional offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) and a further five Acts / Regulations. 
  3. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
  4. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.