Businesses and public sector bodies should conduct privacy impact assessments before developing new IT systems or making changes to the way they handle individuals’ personal data, the Information Commissioner’s Office will urge at a conference today.

The data watchdog is backing the impact assessment idea raised last week by influential think tank Demos, and will launch a handbook aimed at helping organisations assess the privacy implications of their plans.

Deputy information commissioner David Smith said: “It is essential that before introducing new systems and technologies, which could accelerate the growth of a surveillance society, full consideration is given to the impact on individuals and that safeguards are in place to minimise intrusion.

“Privacy impact assessments are a common sense approach to help organisations develop privacy friendly ways of working.”

The conference on the Surveillance Society, taking place in Manchester, is also set to discuss the use of privacy enhancing technologies to protect personal data. The technologies can be used to minimise the information collected about individuals and ensure that privacy safeguards are built into IT systems.