One of Britain’s most senior public servants has been working from her native Canada since mid-June, more than 4,500 miles away from her office.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, was working from her home in the Canada’s Pacific Time Zone.
The Telegraph understands that Ms Denham returned home after her mother suffered serious injuries in a road accident. She is not due back until next month and is likely to have to isolate for 14 days when she returns.
Asked whether she worked the same hours as her team, an Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) spokesman said she “works the hours required to perform the functions of her role and attends all necessary meetings and engagements, irrespective of any time difference”.
Ms Denham is “not on a leave of absence and is fulfilling all aspects of her role” and the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is aware of the arrangement.
“Ms Denham worked full time from her home in London from the start of lockdown and has continued to work full time from her home in Canada from June 13 onwards,” the spokesman said. “Ms Denham is due to return to work from her home in the UK from September 7.”
All staff at the watchdog have worked from home since the start of the pandemic.
Ms Denham made the decision to fly home after her mother, who is in her 80s, was knocked down and injured in a road traffic accident. She had been recovering, but in June suffered complications which convinced Ms Denham she needed to be with her in Canada. She quarantined for 14 days on her arrival.
Consultant Tim Turner, who first revealed her whereabouts, previously called on Ms Denham to resign.
He said: “This is a time for the commissioner to be completely on top of data protection regulation in the UK. At a time of crisis and uncertainty, Elizabeth Denham has abandoned her staff with no formal plans to return.”
Last month, the ICO received an “adequate” rating in an internal audit on its “risk management policies, procedures and practices”. The report said this meant “there is generally a sound control framework in place, but there are significant issues of compliance or efficiency or some specific gaps in the control framework which need to be addressed”.
The ICO’s recent activities include overseeing the original deployment of England’s contact tracing app and the Test and Trace programme, which some claimed was “unlawful” after it was launched without a data protection assessment.
Ms Denham was a prominent figure during the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal, when the ICO fined Facebook £500,000 for breaking the law and misusing data. The ICO said Facebook had given app developers access to people’s data “without clear consent”. The social media giant later paid the fine but did not admit any liability.