ICO readies regulatory sandbox for April launch

Written by Peter Walker

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has developed a “fully functioning” beta phase of its planned regulatory sandbox, with the aim of opening for applications at the end of April.

In November, an analysis of the call for views was published, exploring a range of issues, from identifying areas where data protection might be perceived as a barrier to innovation, to the general scope of the sandbox and on to some more detailed questions about what mechanisms and operational approaches we should take.

Nearly 70 organisations responded, including companies, trade associations, public authorities and third sector bodies.

The ICO plans to make use of eligibility criteria to control entry in three main areas: innovation, public benefit and ‘fitness to participate’. It will also encourage applications from those organisations that are dealing with specific data protection challenges that were flagged in responses as being central to enabling innovation.

The regulator also clarified that this will not be a sandbox in which test environments, dummy data sets or software tools are provided, and organisations will not receive ‘certification’ for participating.

“Rather, this is about working collaboratively with innovators through a range of informal steers and supportive advisory mechanisms to support the dual goals of privacy and innovation,” the ICO stated, adding that it intends to explore other mechanisms such as ‘letters of comfort’.

Responding to questions about how the sandbox might work in practice, the ICO has published a discussion paper which sets out the thinking so far - from early engagement through to application, sandbox entry and, ultimately, exit.

The paper formed part of the discussion at the ICO’s sandbox workshop event in London earlier this week.

To help plan resources and build the sandbox appropriately, the regulator is also now opening an ’Intention to apply’ survey, letting organisations explain advance which products or services they might consider entering.

“It is not an application - the full formal process will open later in the year - but will give us more of an idea about the numbers and types of formal applications we are likely to receive,” noted the ICO.

“The sandbox is open to all sectors and all sizes of organisation, so whether public, private or third sector, a tech startup or an innovation hub at a large established company or government body,” it added.