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Personal Data Online

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 6 September 2018

The Government take the protection of individuals’ data very seriously, which is why we introduced the new legislation, the Data Protection Act 2018 incorporating GDPR—the general data protection regulation—which updates our data protection framework, placing obligations on organisations, including online technology companies, to process people’s data lawfully, fairly and transparently.

A Select Committee report recently gave a withering account of the use of data and ads in our elections, with specific concerns about Facebook being unwilling to investigate claims that its platform was abused by the Russian Government. So can the Minister confirm that the Select Committee recommendations will be implemented in full in order to protect our democratic process?

The hon. Gentleman raises serious issues of which I am aware. The Government will respond to the Select Committee report very shortly, and I can assure him that the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Government will be looking very robustly at the evidence the Select Committee has provided.

Following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the Minister will be aware that there are concerns that there may have been other data breaches affecting Facebook user data. These are currently being investigated by the company, but the company alone, and it is under no obligation at all to share the findings of those results. Does the Minister believe that it should be a matter for the regulators and the ICO to check that Facebook is doing its work properly?

This is a live and ongoing independent investigation by the commissioner and a number of legal proceedings are under way. We continue to expect that all organisations, including Facebook, fully co-operate with the ICO.

The Government know that data is the driving technology behind so much of our new economy and social change, yet they have done absolutely nothing to put out a coherent data regulation framework. Will the Minister commit to undertaking a data review so that we can identify who owns data and how it should be processed?

To some degree the hon. Lady’s concerns have been addressed by the new provisions in the Data Protection Act and the incorporation of GDPR, but she does make the good point that data extends beyond what has already been covered by that Act, and the Government are in the process of reviewing the whole issue of data with the idea of publishing a national data strategy in due course.

There are big opportunities for using big data for good, and I would urge the Minister not to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We have many small tech firms starting up in North Cornwall. Can we utilise some of the small and medium-sized companies to pitch for local and national Government contracts? It seems that the big boys can play; I would like some of the small firms to be able to, too.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that SMEs have an important role to play in the great opportunities supplied by big data and AI, just as large companies do.

Welcome back, Mr Speaker, and congratulations to the Secretary of State on his new position. As the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has said, Facebook broke the law and allowed illegal data breaches during the EU referendum. The Minister has alluded to the numerous investigations by multiple regulators and police authorities, so is it not now the time, in the public and national interest, to have a Mueller-style inquiry into the conduct of the EU referendum that also examines the role played by the Russian state?

The hon. Gentleman raises very serious issues. There is no doubt that the law as it stands has been updated, and the ICO has much-increased powers and will be encouraged to use them. There is no doubt that these serious matters concerning the European referendum will be investigated, but it is really not a matter for my Department.

I am afraid that it is partly a matter for the Minister’s Department, and we will continue to press her and her colleagues on this.

Google’s YouTube is now the No. 1 source of consumption of free music and video. It is estimated to have made £160 billion off the back of content and data created by others. Nearly every sector of our creative industries believes that it abuses its market power through the take-it-or-leave-it rip-off deals that it offers to creators. Is the Minister concerned about this, and if so, what is she going to do about it?

I am indeed concerned about the rights of independent creative artists, and about their power vis-à-vis the huge power of Google and YouTube. I was disappointed that the recent European vote on the matter was so swayed by Google that it went, in my view, against the interests of artists, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be looking carefully at what more we can do to protect artists and their rights over their own output.