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Leaving the EU: Data Protection Agreements

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 22 March 2018

6. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Data Protection Bill on data protection agreements with the EU after the UK leaves the EU. (904526)

The free flow of data is critical to both the EU and the UK, and it is at the core of any modern trading relationship. That is why we are committed to ensuring that we will keep data flows open after the UK leaves the EU.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but the immigration exemption in schedule 2 to the Bill is not reflective of the stated permissible exemptions under article 23 of the general data protection regulation. Why is the Secretary of State resisting amendment to the Bill when he must know that it could affect the grant of adequacy by the European Commission following our exit from the European Union?

On the contrary, the Data Protection Bill is entirely compliant with the GDPR. Indeed, it implements the GDPR in the UK.

I want to associate the Scottish National party with the Secretary of State’s comments remembering those who died last year and thanking those who keep us safe on a daily basis.

In the Data Protection Bill Committee this week, fears of achieving adequacy were raised time and again, including around immigration exemptions, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) mentioned. Given what has just happened to the UK fishing industry, the “Trust us, it will be okay” approach has failed spectacularly. What cast-iron guarantees has the Secretary of State received from the European Commission that there is nothing in the Data Protection Bill that could jeopardise achieving adequacy?

We are entirely aligned on what we want to achieve, which is a Data Protection Bill entirely consistent with the GDPR, and that is what is before the House at the moment. Some amendments that have been tabled would make it more difficult for adequacy to be achieved, not least by introducing absolutist language on rights, as opposed to the nuanced language in the Bill at the moment. I urge the whole House to support the Government in our aim of achieving adequacy with the EU.

We will not get an adequacy agreement with the EU if we cannot keep data safe in this country. The Cambridge Analytica scandal shows how grave that threat has become. To get to the bottom of that threat, it is vital that we understand the network of companies associated with that malign octopus. Will the Secretary of State commit now to auditing and making public all Government contractors with links to Cambridge Analytica, some of whom, I understand, the Foreign Office is assembling for a secretive weekend somewhere in the countryside on Saturday?

An investigation, led by the Information Commissioner, was already under way before the recent scandal became public at the weekend. The Government have made it clear that there were contracts in the past with this group of companies, struck in 2008, for instance, and 2009 and 2014, but there are no ongoing arrangements—contractual arrangements—between the Government and Cambridge Analytica, or the Cambridge Analytica group.

There are many individuals and intellectual property agreements between Cambridge Analytica and other firms, and I hope that the Secretary of State will reflect on his answer and come forward with a more comprehensive approach. This episode has revealed that the Information Commissioner simply does not have the power to conduct investigations properly. It is ludicrous that it has taken her so long to get a search warrant for Cambridge Analytica offices, and it is ludicrous that people frustrating her investigations do not face jail for that frustration. Will the Secretary of State now commit to bringing forward extra powers for the Information Commissioner in the Data Protection Bill? If he does not, we will.

It is all very well the right hon. Gentleman’s adopting an abrasive tone, but the truth is that the Data Protection Bill currently before Parliament is all about strengthening enforcement and strengthening people’s right to consent. I did not intend to get partisan, but the powers that we were left by the Labour party are the powers that are being used at the moment, and I want those powers strengthened.

If, in the light of the evidence from this investigation, we need to further strengthen those powers, I am willing to consider that, but I am not willing to take a lecture from somebody who left the data protection powers in need of the update that we are driving through.