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Data: a new direction consultation overview

The Government’s recent consultation on reforms to the UK’s data protection regime closed on 19 November 2021.

The consultation is a step towards the Government delivering on the National data strategy to secure a pro-growth and trusted regime. The Government’s focus on this notion is made even more evident by the fact unlocking the power of data is one of the Government’s 10 Tech Priorities.

The reforms presented in the consultation deliberately built on the key elements of the current UK General Data Protection Regulation (“UK GDPR”), such as its data processing principles, its data rights for citizens, and its mechanisms for supervision and enforcement. These key elements remain sound and will continue to underpin a high level of protection for people’s personal data and control for individuals over how their data is used. The proposals offer improvements within the current framework, while maintaining the UK’s high reputation for data protection standards and securing public trust.

The consultation contained five key proposals:

1. To reduce barriers to responsible innovation

Looking ahead, the Government recognizes that any data protection regime requires active interpretation and application to new and emerging technologies. The UK’s data protection regime should be an adaptable and dynamic set of rules that are flexible enough to be interpreted quickly and clearly in order to fit the fast-changing world of data-driven technologies. In this aspect, the consultation asked for the public’s views in regard to the data protection law surrounding research specific provisions, deployment of AI systems and views surrounding automatic decision-making processes.

2. To reduce burdens on businesses and deliver better outcomes for people

In practice the current model tends towards a ‘box-ticking’ compliance regime, rather than one which encourages a proactive and systemic approach, and risks undermining the intentions of the principle of accountability. To address this, the Government is proposing to implement a more flexible and risk-based accountability framework based on privacy management programs. To support the implementation of privacy management programs, the Government proposes to amend or remove specific compliance requirements in the UK GDPR, which are disproportionately burdensome for many organizations. Ultimately, taking inspiration from other jurisdictions such as Singapore, Australia and Canada.

3. To boost trade and reduce barriers to data flows

The Government has stated that “…[it] intends to facilitate digital trade and influence the global rules that govern the cross-border flow of goods, services and data.” Since leaving the EU, the UK can capitalize on its independent status and repatriated powers in pursuit of the data opportunity. This includes having the freedom to strike its own international data partnerships with some of the world’s fastest growing economies, using its data adequacy capability.

4. To deliver better public services

The Consultation puts forward the view that the UK’s experience of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the power of using personal data responsibly in the public interest, and the benefits of collaboration between the public and private sectors. It states the newly established Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) within the Cabinet Office will lead the next phase of digital transformation across the public sector.

5. To reform of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)

The ICO is the independent supervisory authority with responsibility for monitoring and enforcing the application of data protection legislation in the UK. The Information Commissioner is accountable to Parliament and may be called to give evidence to the DCMS Select Committee. DCMS is the sponsoring Government department of the ICO and the Secretary of State for DCMS is responsible for the ICO in Parliament. In essence, the consultation proposed a new statutory framework for the ICO for it to achieve its aims and objectives.

The Government will review the comments received on the reform proposals and their response will be published in due course after the closure of the consultation process. At this stage it is unknown if, and when, such reforms will take effect.


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