Opening remarks at ICIC 2021 from Elizabeth Denham CBE, Chair of the ICIC Governance Working Group and UK Information Commissioner

Opening remarks from Elizabeth Denham CBE, Chair of the ICIC Governance Working Group and UK Information Commissioner, on Wednesday 26 May 2021 at the first Open Session of ICIC 2021.

“Hello, and welcome to the first of the ICIC’s 2021 Open session webinars.

These digital sessions will allow us to collaborate and benefit from our shared wisdom, while circumstances prevent us from meeting in person.

It’s a little different to previous years, but I think we’ve all become familiar with change recently.

2020 brought unprecedented challenges for us all. Change was so fast and so sudden, and that makes people unsure, nervous and even scared.

And that’s why our work is so important. The right to access the information that can help people make sense of those changes, is fundamental.

Decisions about public health and civil liberty, about where we can travel and who we can see, about vaccines and testing, about supporting and reshaping economies… it is through transparency and explaining these decisions that people understand them and trust them.

The duty to document decisions is so important here too. Once attention turns to public enquiries and what lessons can be learned from the management of the pandemic, it will be vital that decision making has been documented.

Without that transparency, trust is lost.

And so our community’s role has been essential, in supporting those rights and in using our voices to reiterate their importance.

When the information being requested is so high-profile, potentially so controversial, it is easy to forget the fundamental principles that underpin our roles as Commissioners. Of independence. Of fully informed decision making. And of consistent judgements rooted in law.  

We should be proud of the work we have done.

And now our community, our combined expertise and experience, can turn to what challenges come next.

  • We can consider transparency by design amid the continued impact of the pandemic, and the balance of privacy around health information.
  • We can consider how our work interacts with the freedom of the press, with state secrecy and with data protection.
  • And we can look ahead to the challenges approaching on the horizon, such as the use of artificial intelligence.

Throughout these discussions, we must focus on pragmatism over philosophy.

We must ask ourselves time and time again: what changes can we make that will make access to information easier and more available for citizens?

The ICIC is the forum to answer that question.

Our group has become a focal point for our community, with a truly global membership.

Its value has been demonstrated over the past year, as a place to collaborate, as a forum to discuss challenges and share solutions, and as a mechanism for our community to speak with one voice on key issues.

Our statements on access to information during the pandemic and the duty to document decisions are good examples of this work.

And always with a focus on practical steps that can have a real impact.

This year’s Open session will be a series of webinars and workshops.

I’m thankful to Minister Wagner de Campos Rosario of the Comptroller General of the Union, Brazil for his and his team’s hard work in organising these events, which allow for the ICIC’s good work to continue.

I look forward to seeing the progress we can make.”

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