Internet giants such as Google should be required to foot the bill for data protection enforcement, the information commissioner said last week.

Christopher Graham told the Privacy Laws & Business conference in Cambridge that the ‘polluter pays’ principle could help fill the gap if his office is no longer able to fund itself through registration fees under forthcoming European legislation.

The conference heard that the new legislation, which would create a statutory ‘right of erasure’, is likely to be drafted as a regulation next year despite the UK’s objections. The measure will go before the European Council following approval in spring by the European Parliament. ‘We have momentum and can only go forward,’ Thomas Zerdick, head of reform at the European Commission’s data protection unit, said.

However, Graham warned that ‘over-specced’ legislation would be counterproductive if it placed new responsibilities on data protection agencies without the resources to enforce them: ‘We are in danger of creating something that, because it cannot be done, will be less use than what we have got at the moment.’

Justice minister Simon Hughes (pictured) told the conference that the UK government remained committed to modernising the law, despite its opposition to many of the draft regulation’s measures. ‘We have been fully involved all the time,’ he said. ‘We really are keen to get it done.’