During her appearance before the parliamentary inquiry into fake news, the ICO chief said she was “astounded” by the scale of data held by social media companies, data brokers and political parties.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the personal data of millions of UK social media users harvested and misused, has resulted in long-term inquiries.
Denham also used her appearance to back proposals for tougher regulations and said Mark Zuckerberg should appear before MPs.
The ICO launched its own investigation into how personal data was mishandled and in October the organisation fined Facebook £500,000 – the maximum penalty the office can apply.
Denham told MP’s that the size and complexity of the investigation carried out by the office was “unprecedented.”
The Facebook chief previously refused to appear before the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee’s inquiry. Having turned down MPs, he then went on to appear before an EU panel and Senate committee.
Denham said that during the ICO’s investigation, it was “critical” they had access to company executives. It would be “very useful” for Zuckerberg to assist MPs and appear in the UK, she added.
DCMS committee chair Damian Collins welcomed Denham’s recommendations, stating: “On Facebook, I welcome the Information Commissioner’s comments that the platform needs to change and take much greater responsibility, and her call for Facebook to be subject to stricter regulation and oversight.”
New Regulatory Body
During her appearance, the ICO chief also pledged her support for the introduction of a new regulatory model in regards to dealing with fake news or harmful/offensive content.
A tougher approach to dealing with technology companies will be needed, she explained, adding that the “time for self-regulation is over, that ship has sailed.”
For this to succeed, Denham proposed that parliament establishes a set of key objectives – the precise details of which are yet unknown – and for a code of practice to be drawn up by Ofcom and ICO.
While these proposals could help regulate social media misinformation, Denham conceded any efforts would lead MPs and regulators into uncharted waters.
“No country has tried this yet,” she admitted. “It’s quite controversial and the need to balance freedom of expression with the harms of the internet is hard.”
Denham also noted there should be an “ethical pause” taken to assess how political marketing should be conducted and regulated online.
Government and the public, she said, must ask whether the “same model that sells us holidays, shoes and cars” should be used to engage with voters and broadcast information.