ICO launches data protection sandbox

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced the introduction of a new sandbox to tackle data protection regulations.

Products and services focusing on the use of biometrics to speed up airport passenger journeys, innovations in crime prevention and technological advances in the health sector are among the first projects selected to participate in the ICO Sandbox.

On top of these, firms will also have its solutions tested for compliance in housing, road traffic management, student welfare and tackling bias in artificial intelligence.

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, commented: “The ICO supports innovation in technology and exciting new uses of data, while ensuring that people’s privacy and legal rights are protected.

“We have always said that privacy and innovation are not mutually exclusive and there doesn’t need to be an either-or choice between the two.

“The sandbox will help companies and public bodies deliver new products and services of real benefit to the public, with assurance that they have tackled built-in data protection at the outset.”

The sandbox is a new ICO service and its purpose is to support organisations which are developing personal data-based products and services “with a clear public benefit.”

It will create an exchange between the ICO and participants – with the ICO offering its advice and support while also ensuring that appropriate protections and safeguards are in place.

“Engaging with businesses and innovators in the sandbox is also a valuable exercise in horizon scanning – the ICO can identify new developments in technology and innovation and the potential opportunities and challenges they may provide,” concluded Denham.

Next, all firms will develop and agree plans with the ICO before testing their products – with an aim for all participants to have exited the sandbox by September 2020

Following 64 applications, in total, 10 projects were selected for the initial beta phase of the sandbox – see below the list of firms who were chosen.


FutureFlow is a regtech start-up designing a forensic analytics platform that monitors the flow of funds in the financial system. Its platform enables multiple financial institutions, regulators and agencies to leverage each other’s intelligence on electronic financial crime without heavy reliance on personally identifying information. 

Greater London Authority

In order to reduce levels of violence in London, the Mayor has set up a Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) which is taking a public health approach to this issue. As part of this work, the VRU needs to better understand how public health and social services can be managed to prevent and reduce crime, with a focus on early intervention. There is increasing interest from the VRU, the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and the Greater London Authority (GLA), for health, social and crime data to be looked at in an integrated and collaborative way.

Heathrow Airport Ltd

Heathrow Airport’s automation of the passenger journey programme aims to streamline the passenger journey by using biometrics. Facial recognition technology would be used at check-in, self-service bag drops and boarding gates to create a seamless experience for passengers travelling through the airport. 


Jisc is developing a code of practice with universities and colleges wishing to investigate the use of student activity data to improve their provision of student support services. This will help them protect both privacy and wellbeing.

The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s project partners with Blackpool Council and the Department of Work and Pensions, and seeks to match personal information controlled by multiple parties in order to create a dataset that will allow MHCLG to understand more about the private rented sector in Blackpool, who lives there, and how we can help improve the quality of properties.

NHS Digital

NHS Digital is working on the design and development of a central mechanism for collecting and managing patient consents for the sharing of their healthcare data for secondary use purposes, including medical research and regulated clinical trials.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK Limited

Novartis is exploring the use of voice technology within healthcare. Through its Voice Enabled Solutions project, Novartis is working with healthcare professionals to design solutions to make patient care easier, and addressing the data privacy challenges posed by this emerging technology.


Onfido will research how to identify and mitigate algorithmic bias in machine learning models used for remote biometric-based identity verification.

Tonic Analytics

The Galileo Programme was launched in 2017 and is jointly sponsored by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Highways England. Galileo’s primary focus is on the ethical use of innovative data analytics technology to improve road safety while also preventing and detecting crime.


TrustElevate provides secure authentication and authorisation for under- 16s. It is working to enable companies to comply with regulatory requirements, and to make the Internet a safer environment for children, facilitating a more robust digital ecosystem and economy.