Data protection and freedom of information are under threat from the continuing economic recession, according to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) - which has published its strategy for the coming year and beyond.

Information Commissioner Cristopher Graham said that data protection and freedom of information were "too often seen as a mere ‘back office’ function to be cut".

He said those dealing with information security and access to information are "under real pressure, hit by the double whammy of increasing demands for information from citizens and consumers on the one hand and reduced resourcing on the other".

"Businesses under pressure in the downturn must be tempted to cut corners and push boundaries," he added. "That’s a bad call, since the first casualty of a big data breach is going to be a brand’s reputation. Consumers will abandon companies that disrespect their privacy."

The ICO is also able to impose fines of up to £500,000 fine.

The ICO said its Information Rights Strategy is part of a response to the European Commission preparing rules for pan-European data protection rights, as well as to a government review of the existing Freedom of Information legislation in the UK.

Where both the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts are concerned the ICO says it will focus on areas including health, credit and finance, criminal justice, internet and mobile, and security.

Town halls and central government will also no doubt continue to come under scrutiny too, although the ICO has said its key overall goal is educating the public about their data rights.

"We will treat all cases that come to us fairly and properly but not necessarily pursue them with equal vigour," the ICO said. "In handling cases we will ensure that public authorities and other organisations retain responsibility for resolving information rights problems that are of their own making."