Fight against ‘illiberal’ UK data reforms goes to Brussels

EU Building new 2Brussels must get ready to rip up the UK’s data adequacy agreement immediately should the British Government’s data reforms be passed or EU consumers’ data protection rights will be under threat from a country that will be a “test lab” for experimental and abusive uses of data.

That is the stark warning contained in an open letter to the European Commission, signed by more than two dozen civil society groups and privacy experts, including Facebook nemesis Max Schrems, data protection legal experts, leading academics, Privacy International, Big Brother Watch, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Open Rights Group.

The letter claims that the UK’s Data Protection & Digital Information (No.2) Bill – which is designed to replace GDPR and could be passed by the autumn – will turn the UK into a “leaky valve” that undermines EU consumers’ data protection rights.

It states: “The DPDI Bill flies in the face of the 2021 adequacy decision. If passed, the Bill would mean a wholesale deregulation of the UK data protection framework, allowing private companies to seek shelter in the UK to circumvent European data protection standards, and turning the UK into a ‘test lab’ for experimental and abusive uses of data.

“Likewise, the UK Government would be given the power to legalise invasive surveillance programmes and other measures that trump the right to data protection of EU citizens.”

The missive goes on to warn: “European personal data could be accessed by UK public authorities without basic human rights safeguards in place, thanks to new delegated legislative powers which would allow UK Ministers to override the law arbitrarily and without meaningful boundaries to their discretion.

“At the same time, the Bill would undermine the independence of the UK data protection supervisory authority by establishing a new Information Commission, whose board would be directly appointed by the UK Government. Ministers would have the power to dictate strategic priorities to the Information Commission, and to interfere with the exercise of its powers.

“The UK is enacting a wave of illiberal legislation that has been described by Human Rights Watch as ‘the most significant assault on human rights protections in the UK in decades’.”

The adequacy decision, was granted to the UK in June 2021, and allows the free flow of personal data to and from the UK without additional safeguards.

The move followed dire warnings of the consequences for UK businesses if a deal had not been signed, with the CBI claiming that without a deal the UK’s £240bn data economy would fall off a cliff edge. Even the UK Government estimated that the UK economy could lose up to £85bn a year.

The current pact will expire in June 2025 but the letter calls on the Commission not to wait.

It concludes: “The Commission must urgently take stock of these changes, which directly contradict key elements of data protection adequacy and provide European citizens with assurance that it would repeal the adequacy decision if these proposals were to become law.”

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