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Data: A New Direction

Volume 700: debated on Friday 10 September 2021

Today, I am pleased to announce to the House that the Government are launching a consultation on reforms to the UK’s regime for the protection of personal data. This consultation will be open for 10 weeks, from 10 September 2021 until 19 November 2021.

The Government will have the freedom to create a bold new data regime outside of the EU. The UK can now reshape its approach to regulation and seize opportunities with its new regulatory freedoms, helping to drive growth, innovation and competition across the country.

This consultation is the first step in delivering on that objective and the next step in the Government's plan for digital regulation, while building on our groundbreaking action to keep people safe online through the Online Safety Bill. Furthermore we recently published plans to establish a new pro-competition regime for digital markets and outlined that we will be seeking to agree data adequacy agreements with leading economies such as the US and Singapore.

Data is a huge strategic asset. As set out in mission 2 of the UK’s national data strategy, the Government want to create a more pro-growth and trusted regime for personal data protection. We want to unlock the power of this data to drive innovation and boost the economy, while continuing to protect people’s safety and privacy. This is one of our 10 tech priorities.

In order to do this, the UK needs agile and adaptable data protection laws that enhance its global reputation as a hub for responsible data-driven business that respects high standards of data protection. A responsive framework will enable responsible innovation and a focus on privacy outcomes that avoids imposing any rules today that become obsolete tomorrow as technology evolves.

Any data protection regime requires active interpretation and pragmatic application to new and emerging technologies, such as machine learning. Over three years after its introduction, however, there is persistent uncertainty about how to apply the current regime, aspects of which are unnecessarily complex or vague. This risks throwing up barriers to responsible data access, use and sharing.

The reforms outlined in this consultation will:

Strengthen our position as a science superpower, by simplifying data use by researchers and developers of AI and other cutting edge technologies.

Build on the unprecedented and life-saving collaboration between the public and private sectors in using data responsibly to tackle the covid-19 pandemic.

Secure the UK’s status as a global hub for the free and responsible flow of personal data, complementing our ambitious agenda for new trade deals and data adequacy agreements with some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Reinforce the responsibility of businesses to keep personal information safe and encourage investment in effective compliance activities that reflect how they operate and their users’ expectations.

Ensure that the Information Commissioner’s Office remains a world-leading regulator, empowered to ensure people can use data responsibly to achieve economic and social goals.

Throughout this process, the UK intends to maintain its high standards of data protection, while taking a pragmatic and risk-based approach, rather than one that over-emphasises bureaucratic exercises. Far from being a barrier to innovation or trade, we know that regulatory certainty and high data protection standards allow businesses and consumers to thrive.

The reforms proposed in the Government’s consultation will create a set of new, ambitious, pro-growth and innovation-friendly data protection rules and regulations that underpins the trustworthy use of data for an even better UK data rights regime.

These reforms have clear benefits for both citizens and businesses. We are proposing to introduce more flexibility in how organisations embed privacy management in their processes alongside greater transparency about how their users’ data is protected and clearer procedures for handling complaints. We propose taking action to tackle nuisance calls which can disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people in our society. We will explore whether ICO should have powers to impose higher fines and carry out audits of companies which are responsible for breaching direct marketing rules. We will continue to look into voluntary industry-led action; and explore whether to mandate communications providers to do more to block calls and texts at source or to provide free-of-charge call-blocking services.

Furthermore, our proposed reforms will clarify how all kinds of businesses can navigate the data protection regime to innovate responsibly with personal data. We are also proposing measures that would require the ICO to recognise and account for how its regulatory activity on data protection may impact on competition and innovation in the digital economy.

Internationally, our reforms will allow us to operate a risk-based and proportionate regime that allows the UK to strike deals with some of the fastest growing economies in the world while keeping people’s data safe and secure.

These reforms will keep people’s data safe and secure, while ushering in a new golden age of growth and innovation right across the UK, as we build back better and I hope you will all join me in supporting this work.

Further details can be found in the consultation and supportive documents, available at:

A copy of the consultation and the analysis of expected impact will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.