How the ICO’s Sandbox can help make your innovative idea a reality

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) Sandbox is a new service designed to support organisations which are developing innovative products and services using personal data.

While the deadline is rapidly approaching, we would encourage TechUK members and readers to get in touch if they are developing a project with demonstrable public benefit, but which also has some element of risk in terms of compliance with data protection law.

The Sandbox really is an attractive proposition for the UK tech sector. It will enable participants to work through their projects with the ICO’s specialist staff to help ensure they comply with the law. It will also provide some comfort from enforcement action and, where feasible, increased public reassurance that innovative products and services are not in breach of data protection legislation.

It can help demonstrate that you are serious about due diligence, attention to detail and a commitment to legal and regulatory compliance which will always be attractive to everyone from customers and the public to potential investors.

It will also benefit the ICO. Many of you reading this are working on cutting edge projects to transform the way we live and work. We want to support this innovation whilst helping ensure that the products and services under development are compliant and deliver benefits to the public.

Our Sandbox will help support organisations as they test new concepts and technologies. The lessons we learn together may identify more fundamental questions with broader implications for data protection, and could ultimately inform the development of new guidance or codes of conduct in particular sectors, to pave the way for further innovation.

Since we opened the beta phase of our sandbox for applications at the end of March, we have had a great response. Lots of people and organisations have contacted the dedicated sandbox team to talk things through and we had some great questions and feedback. We are very excited by the potential of some of the projects being discussed with us and full, completed applications have already started coming in, which is great.

We would like to take this opportunity to remind prospective applicants that they really need to spell out the innovation and public benefit of what they are doing. Supporting evidence is also vital. But most of all we are really keen to promote further dialogue. Our specialist staff are on hand, ready to talk to people and organisations who might be thinking of putting an application in or who are unsure about whether or not the sandbox will be right for their product or service. We can help explain the principles, the process and what is needed in more detail.

If you are unsure whether your innovation fits the bill, don’t hesitate to email us in first instance at sandbox@ico.org.uk or pick up the phone if you have already engaged with us. Early and direct dialogue with the sandbox team can clear up any grey areas and will invariably lead to a stronger application. And that will lead to a potentially much better outcome for everyone concerned – the organisation, the ICO and, ultimately, the UK public.

The deadline for applications is noon on Friday 24 May.

Chris Taylor is the ICO’s Head of Assurance (Sandbox, Codes and Certification)

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