UK Privacy Officer Denies Conflict of Interest in New Roles

British intelligence commissioner Elizabeth Denham will join Baker McKenzie, a global law firm that previously defended Facebook from the enforcement of privacy by her office.

Denham joined the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in 2016 and oversaw the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018. Will be replaced by current New Zealand privacy commissioner Jon Edwards..

according to Press release from Baker McKenzieAs a consultant, Denham will join the London office as part of the Global Data and Technology Team in January 2022, advising clients on data protection best practices, strategies, and broader technology regulatory trends.

Brian Hengesbo, chair of Baker McKenzie’s Global Data Privacy and Security Business Unit, said Denham’s appointment was a “real coup” for the company. The appointment of Elizabeth will be accessible and bring even greater power and depth to this core focus of the company. “

However, some have blamed revolving door personnel between regulators and the industry for Denham’s return to work in the private sector, representing the company in which she oversaw behavior, directly from the regulatory role.

Andrew Pakes, Deputy Secretary and Research Director of Union Prospect, said: It should be impossible to enforce regulation one day and advise someone on how to circumvent it the next day.

“Big Tech already has the firepower to drive out lobby unions, communities and citizenship groups, especially during these delicate times when it comes to data and AI. [artificial intelligence] Regulation. “

He added that the next commissioner, Edwards, has “big challenges” and that data rights at work should be prioritized during his tenure.

“AI is being used more and more in the workplace, and regulations run the risk of being far behind. Workers cannot afford to be free to use their data and technology rights. Work on these issues. By working with unions and workers, new commissioners have the opportunity to create a fair and equitable environment that serves both businesses and workers, “he said.

Estelle Massé, Global Data Protection Leader for Access Now, a global human rights group, said Denham’s new work announcement will take place just two days after officially leaving the ICO on November 30, 2021.

“The travel timeline raises the serious issue of independence and possible conflicts of interest. For work, the commissioner is investigating several companies represented by law firms, including Facebook. Did you discuss with Baker McKenzie? ICO staff were informed of possible conflicts of interest and what steps were taken to avoid them? Former Commissioner and ICO should answer these questions “She said.

“The disproportionate power of a giant tech company is reflected not only in how the platform operates, but also in the amount of lobbying and the resources needed to hire talent and power.

“This case shows how important it is to ensure the independence of data protection authorities. We need clear rules and processes regarding the positions that commissioners and DPA staff can move to limit conflicts of interest. is.”

Talk to the BBC in October 2021Denham said that the size of tech companies and the vast amount of free resources often overwhelm regulators and slow them down.

“The other thing I learned from this job is that Big Tech not only has the power of lobbying, but also has very deep pockets,” she said. “Therefore, when it comes to proceedings, these companies are definitely ready to file proceedings against public institutions such as my office. [Their] Deep pockets mean there is arm injustice when we are working on these. “

Asked if the transfer to Baker McKenzie would contribute to “weapon injustice,” Denham objected: A decision that knows what someone with my background is thinking about the compliance and product design challenges facing. This is especially true if law firm clients adhere to age-appropriate design codes and advise on design privacy and security. “

She added that her work with Baker McKenzie was part-time and she accepted two civil society roles. One will be announced in the UK and the other in Canada in the New Year.

“My plan is for the portfolio career to continue policy work to support people’s rights in the UK, North America and elsewhere,” she said.

Denham states, depending on whether there is a conflict of interest: I understand why this question is being asked and it works perfectly. Both me and Baker McKenzie are very aware of my previous regulatory roles and responsibilities and the need to respect all the confidentiality and professional obligations that arise from them. All of this is properly considered and planned.

“In addition to the legal obligation to serve a former commissioner under the Data Protection Act 2018 (Section 132), my work does not include contact with the former office or agents for at least one year.”

The ICO states that Denham did not require approval from the UK Business Appointment Advisory Board to join the new employer because its employees are not civil servants or ministers.

“Once they leave their role, there is no limit to the work that former commissioners can undertake,” said an ICO spokesman. “The ICO also has a strict policy governing the declaration of profits. No conflicts of interest have been identified for this role.

“The Information Commissioner and all of its staff are also required by law to maintain the confidentiality of the information they receive as part of their work. This applies both during and after employment at the ICO.”

In response to a question from Computer Weekly about Denham’s role, Baker McKenzie said in a statement similar to Denham that potential conflicts of interest were properly considered and planned.

The company also confirmed to Computer Weekly that Denham would be banned from contacting or representing his former office for at least a year. We are very excited to have Elizabeth join us and bring that regulatory perspective to our team.

“In addition to the legal obligation to serve a former commissioner under the Data Protection Act 2018, Elizabeth’s work does not include contact with the former office or agents for at least one year.”

Baker McKenzie and Facebook vs. ICO

Facebook previously represented Baker McKenzie, but under the supervision of Denham, the ICO took enforcement action against the company, eventually resulting in a secret settlement.

In that case, the ICO initially penalized Facebook for up to £ 500,000 in October 2018 for a serious violation of data protection laws related to Cambridge Analytica. find Facebook says, “Make application developers clear enough to access information without informed consent, even if the user hasn’t downloaded the app, even if they’re just” friends “with the person who downloaded it. I have improperly processed my personal information. “

At the time, Denham said: “Facebook was unable to adequately protect the privacy of its users before, during and after the illegal processing of this data. Companies of that size and expertise should know better and better. I should have done it. “

A year later, in October 2019, Facebook settled with the ICO and agreed to pay a fine of £ 500,000, but was not responsible.

so statement At the time, the ICO said Denham “we believe this agreement will be most beneficial to the interests of all UK data subjects who are Facebook users.”

However, Denham, who addressed the British Parliamentary Subcommittee on online harm and disinformation in January 2021, said: A secret arrangement between her office and Facebook It prevented her from publicly answering whether Facebook had contacted the ICO about the completion of the “app audit.” This is what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a public promise in April 2018 in front of the US Senate Committee.

“I think I was able to answer that question personally with you and the Commission,” Denham told MP Kevin Brennan when asked if he had contacted the ICO about the audit.

There was no mention of this arrangement when the details of the transaction between the ICO and Facebook were first announced in October 2019, but Facebook, under the terms of the agreement, said, “For other purposes. We have obtained permission to retain the documents disclosed by the ICO during the appeal, including furthering our own investigation into issues around Cambridge Analytica. “

When asked why this decision was made, Denham said he was not allowed to comment by law, and Facebook was “issued with the highest fine that the law at the time gave the ICO the right to impose.” “.

Baker McKenzie and Big Tech

October 2021, Survey by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) based on the Pandora Papers Baker McKenzie employs approximately 4,700 lawyers in 46 countries and earns $ 3.1 billion. This has enabled many multinationals to take advantage of shell companies, trusts and offshore tax havens to avoid taxes and scrutiny.

This includes Apple, a leading tech company that helped find tax havens, and Facebook, which helped lawyers send billions of dollars in profits to their low-tax destination, Ireland.

In December 2020 report Despite reaching a record £ 1.04 billion in gross profit that same year, Facebook paid only £ 28.5m in UK corporate tax in 2019.

Baker McKenzie told an American lawyer Strong opposition to ICIJ’s report, which claimed to be “very selective, inaccurate, and speculative in nature.”

A spokeswoman added: “Baker McKenzie is built on the principles of integrity, transparency, professionalism and the highest standards of ethical adherence. We advise clients around the world on legal issues and we do business with them. Strictly comply with the laws of all jurisdictions that do. “

Baker McKenzie, who was asked to comment on the ICIJ’s investigation, said Link to web page About its global tax practices. UK Privacy Officer Denies Conflict of Interest in New Roles

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