Data reforms under fresh fire for favouring big business

data privacy 2Critics of the UK’s data reforms are not giving up without a fight, with fresh claims that the Data Protection & Digital Information Bill favours big business by eroding consumers’ rights to find out what data is held on them.

Free “subject access requests” have been a key part of GDPR since it was implemented in May 2018 and have hit the headlines in recent weeks after former UKIP leader Nigel Farage used the process to find out why he had been debanked from Coutts.

But under the new law, organisations can reject a request or charge a fee if they believe it is “vexatious or excessive”, effectively lowering the threshold for refusals, leading to a significant increase.

Open Rights Group policy manager for data protection Abigail Burke told the Guardian: “There’s already a huge power imbalance between large corporations and the government, and individuals, so when everyday workers or other people are trying to get an understanding of how companies or their employer are using their data, subject access requests are critical.

“You can’t really exercise your data rights if you don’t even know what data is being held and how it’s being used, so the changes are very concerning to us. Subject access requests to the police and other national security bodies have been really important for allowing people to understand how their data is being shared.”

Burke also maintains that the bill will make it harder to challenge or understand when AI and automatic decision making is being used, while weakening the powers of the the Information Commissioner’s Office by handing the secretary of state more controls over how data is collected and re-used without proper Parliamentary oversight.

She added: “[The bill] greatly weakens your control over and access to your own data, making it very difficult to understand when and how automated decision-making is being used to make important decisions about your own life.

“And it reduces some of the safeguards and the mechanisms that you have to make complaints, or try to challenge decisions that you think are unfair. It’s basically the government choosing big business and shady technology companies over the interests of everyday people.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Government disagrees with Burke’s criticism, a spokesperson insisted her claims were “misleading and in several cases factually inaccurate”, and that it would “provide greater clarity about how companies handle people’s personal data”.

The spokesperson added: “It will also enshrine a new right for people to complain directly to an organisation about how their data has been handled – providing even more protection for customers and users. It will strengthen the enforcement powers of the independent regulator to hold companies of any size to account.”

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