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A new UK ICO and Russia’s cyber war in Ukraine begins – January 2022 in review

The new UK data regulator set out his stall as Russian forces ramped up cyber aggression against Ukraine.

By Matthew Gooding

Over the next few days, Tech Monitor will take a look back at the stories which made the headlines in 2022. We start with January, and news of a new data watchdog for the UK.

The new year began with a new face at the helm of the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK data regulator. New Zealander John Edwards took up the role of UK ICO, succeeding Elizabeth Denham who stood down in 2021 when her term came to an end.

New information commissioner
John Edwards took up his post as UK Information Commissioner in January. (Photo courtesy of ICO)

Edwards came with a reputation as a straight-talker, having labelled Facebook “morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide” in tweets following the attack on a Christchurch mosque in 2019, which saw 51 people killed. 

Experts told Tech Monitor the shape of the UK’s GDPR replacement would be a big challenge for the new UK ICO, and it certainly proved to be an ongoing theme of his first year in charge.

“Privacy is a right not a privilege,” said Edwards at the time. “My role is to work with those to whom we entrust our data so they are able to respect our privacy with ease whilst still reaping the benefits of data-driven innovation.”

UK police make up emerging technology frameworks ‘on the hoof’

One organisation collecting more and more data is the UK police, but erstwhile policing minister Kit Malthouse rejected the suggestion that the force might need guidance on the ethical considerations of using emerging technologies, despite alarm from campaigners over live facial recognition and ‘predictive policing’.

Concerns had been raised that police were deploying new technology without fully evaluating or understanding the implications of its use. Rick Muir, director of UK policing think tank the Police Foundation, told Tech Monitor a lack of guidance meant police were having to come up with frameworks governing the purchase of emerging technologies “on the hoof”.

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But Malthouse told a House of Lords committee hearing: “We have to be slightly careful not to stifle innovation”. He said that while there could be room for regional bodies advising police forces on technology ethics, he would be “concerned about setting up a parallel ethics group” on a national level, as Parliament already serves a similar purpose. “In the end, aren’t we [MPs] the national ethics committee?,” Malthouse asked, proving that he at least has a sense of humour.

Cyberattacks mark start of Russia-Ukraine war

Elsewhere, Russian forces began to mass on the border with Ukraine as tensions mounted in the region, and a string of cyberattacks were launched against targets in Kyiv and beyond.

With war looking inevitable, businesses were urged to check their cyber insurance policies ahead of a more sustained barrage of Russia aggression online. Franz-Stefan Gady, a fellow at security think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told Tech Monitor: “In the event of a military conflict, it is likely that we will see hacker groups of Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU, as well as [intelligence agency] the FSB, conduct offensive cyber operations against critical information infrastructure in Ukraine and, perhaps, select European NATO member states.” Sadly his predictions proved to be accurate.

More from January 2022: Big Tech is coming for the weather

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