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Data Protection Election: Data Update

Death of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

After the snap election announcement, it became clear that the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which has been continuously mooted for over two years (and been a key focal point for data practitioners) was no more.  Any legislation that does not complete its passage by the end of the ‘wash up period’ needs reintroducing in the next Parliament and so, the Bill was suddenly ‘dead’.

However, all is not lost, and leading practitioners believe that parts (let’s hope the positive parts) of the proposed legislation will re-surface in revised forms (especially in relation to AI), no matter which political party comes into power.


What The Parties Say About the Future

The political parties’ proposals for data protection in their pre-election manifestos are rather lacklustre, which seems astonishing given the importance of protecting data in an increasingly digital and data driven world. Below is a breakdown of some of the main data points from each of the current manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green Party.

The Conservative Party manifesto prioritises their AI advancements promise, continuing AI development and investment into sectors.  However, there is no mention of any future regulations and no elaboration on whether or how that development might be subject to future regulation. There is a clear commitment to enhancing innovation and using technology to improve NHS productivity and cost-efficiency across public services, including to double both digital and AI expertise across the civil service and highlight their proposal of investing £3.4 billion in new NHS technology (no doubt some regulation will follow here)

In relation to online safety, the Conservatives have stated that they would ban mobile phones in schools and will consult with other countries similarly considering widening parental controls on children’s access to social media (with the aim of introducing further measures).

Similarly, the Labour Party makes no express reference to data protection, but also propose further policy in the area of AI.   However, they go further than the conservatives with the proposal of a ‘Regulatory Innovation Office’ to help update current regulation, speed-up approval times, and help coordinate cross-cutting regulation. In relation to  AI regulation Labour promise to introduced binding regulation on companies developing frontier models. Their manifesto, published on Thursday 13 June, featured considerable  mention of tech and included various tech-focussed policies, including reforms to the planning act to accommodate greater investment into data centres. Although technology doesn’t seem to feature within one of its five key missions, it runs through all of the commitments they make.

In their manifesto, they suggest that technology is not just a means to grow the economy and improve productivity, but it is also a vehicle to solve some of the societal challenges that the UK faces, including the NHS.  As part of this they want to digitise the NHS children’s ‘red book’, create a data library (to consolidate research programmes) and are committed to building on the Online Safety Act (including giving coroners’ greater power to access information held by tech firms after a child’s death).

They also state they will introduce “binding regulation on the handful of companies developing the most powerful AI models and by banning the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes”.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto also makes repeated references to tackling online safety, data privacy concerns, and the impact of social media on mental health. Their  ‘Patients’ Charter’ comments on protecting patient data and “patients’ rights to opt out of data sharing”.

However, unlike the Conservatives and Labour, the Liberal Democrat  manifesto does refer clearly to data protection, in the context of a proposed Digital Bill of Rights “to protect everyone’s rights online, including the rights to privacy, free expression, and participation without being subjected to harassment and abuse”.  In respect of health and social care, the Lib Dems emphasise using technology to enable parents, carers and disabled people to enter the job market, promising a digital strategy to enable them to live “tech-enabled lives”.

Significantly the Liberal Democrats propose to restrict data sharing, specifically to stop ‘public agencies’ sharing data with the Home Office if it relates to immigration enforcement. They feel this would be attractive to voters by this repealing of the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act’. The immigration exemption could essentially override some people’s data protection rights if those rights could prejudice the maintenance of effective immigration control by Government (or the investigation or detection of activities which would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control). However, this seems more of an immigration point than data.

A separate point of interest involves MP’s data rights where the Liberal Democrats propose that “all Ministers’ instant-messaging conversations involving government business must be placed on the departmental record” and that “all lobbying of Ministers via instant messages, emails, letters and phone calls is published as part of quarterly transparency releases”.

A Digital Bill of Rights is also proposed in the manifesto of the Green Party,  they argue this would establish the UK as “a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces”, and to ensure that “UK data protection is as strong as any other regulatory regime”.  They advocate implementing a “precautionary regulatory approach to the harms and risk of AI” but state that a coordinated approach is required from the UK together with other countries in order to address the future risks of AI.

In conclusion data protection rights did not seem to be an area that any party relied upon to boost their campaign or bring to the public’s attention, but these rights have been integrated into other manifesto commitments in one way or another. Now let’s also wait and see what if any areas of data protection will be resurrected ‘from the dead Bill’!




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