Emma Bate
  • General legal counsel
  • UK Information Commissioner's Office
United Kingdom
Emma Bate

Emma Bate

  • General legal counsel
  • UK Information Commissioner's Office
United Kingdom

What made you go into privacy law?

I looked at the [UK’s] Data Protection Act 1998 when I was a trainee solicitor but it only came into my regular practice when I had been qualified for a year. I was lucky in that data protection work was coming to me as a junior lawyer and since I found it interesting and intellectually challenging, I started to focus more on data protection during my 20 years as a solicitor. Initially I did a lot of data protection work for the public sector, including work on whistle-blowing in the NHS [the UK’s National Health Service] and data sharing between police and drug agencies, and so I quickly realised that privacy rights are so important for all individuals.

Why did you move to the ICO?

I really enjoyed my career in private practice, but after 20 years I was ready for a change in direction and that is what the ICO has brought me. I enjoy facing fresh challenges through the same lens of data protection, such as working with the European Data Protection Board and meeting with government departments. When I started, we were dealing with a new data protection bill, figuring out how the GDPR worked with Brexit and looking into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. That type of work was new and challenging to me then and is still amazingly interesting every day.

Have you faced any challenges as a woman in your career?

There are challenges being female and working as a senior lawyer, although I personally never had an issue in this regard. I think I’m very lucky as I’ve never felt my voice as a woman was any less heard than my male colleagues. Earlier in my career I worked with women partners who, when starting out, had to pretend that they did not work at the firm when male clients visited – those days are long gone. I started at the ICO 18 months ago and I have found that there is no issue being a woman in this environment – there are women on every level, up to the commissioner herself. What is challenging for both men and women is juggling a career with family life once you have children. The work-life balance is a challenge but the ICO has brilliant family-friendly policies and very flexible working times.

Which matters have you been working on recently?

A key part of my work for the past nine months has been producing privacy guidance for Brexit and looking at how we can help stakeholders prepare for a no-deal Brexit in particular. This guidance is on the website alongside tools for small businesses and organisations on standard contractual clauses.

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