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UK's info commish is having a howler: Site dies amid 'plagiarised' GDPR book scandal

Elizabeth Denham's foreword to scrapped tome raises eyebrows

There have been better weeks for The Information Commissioner's Office, which has faced ridicule thanks to ongoing website woes and accusations of dodgy book endorsements.

The UK data protection watchdog's site – which offers regulatory and compliance advice and acts as a portal for reporting breaches – has been down since yesterday morning.

Initially, a message on the site said it was due to "unprecedented traffic" – but quite what could be sending droves of people there in the middle of silly season remains unclear.

However, the ICO is now pinning the blame on its web host, saying in a statement sent to El Reg:

Due to a technical issue experienced by our website host the ICO website is currently unavailable. Our website hosts are continuing their work to restore the website. We apologise for any inconvenience this has caused.

The downtime is the source of both frustration and amusement for would-be users, who pointed out it was impossible to access advice on data protection problems or comply with laws on reporting breaches.

Twitter trouble-maker Gareth pointed out that – since he had "re-identified" the de-identified individual in former Trump attorney Michael Cohen's testimony – he probably needed to report himself.

Only to find that he couldn’t...

Meanwhile, the commissioner herself, Elizabeth Denham, was the subject of some negative press this week, featuring in Private Eye's "Dunce's Corner".

The tale, first exposed through probes from members of the data protection Twitterati, pointed out that a book she had provided a foreword to had been pulled by the publisher following accusations of plagiarism and basic errors.

The GDPR Handbook – which was the subject of much criticism among experts when it was first published – was written by Adri Kolah and released into the world by publisher Kogan Page.

However, the book has been pulled and the Eye said the author had removed most mentions of it from his social media accounts and websites – and would not respond to requests for comment.

In light of this, concerns were raised about Denham's decision to put her name to it, and about her statement in the foreword that the book was "authoritative".

Freedom of Information requests to the ICO about the deal indicated there was little in the way of record-keeping at the time.

The office said no information was held on whether anyone in the office reviewed the book, any notes the commissioner had made while reviewing it or on what criteria was used to make the claim that it was "authoritative".

It did, though, release emails (PDF) between Denham and Kolah about the deal, which show the author asking "Liz" to "work your magic" and then repeatedly chasing for the bumph, which was duly sent over on 6 April.

However, the Eye reported the ICO had said the commissioner had not studied the book, but based her comments on "prior confidence in the author".

In a bid to address the concerns, the ICO said it was now "developing a corporate policy on how requests for support and collaboration from third parties will be dealt with in the future".

When complete, this will be published on its website – which will, presumably, be back up and running by then. ®

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