Govt plots major data law shake-up steered by NZ chief

parliament newThe Government has outlined plans for the biggest shake up of UK data protection for decades, paving the way for new laws based on “common sense, not box-ticking” as well as a major expansion of international data transfer agreements.

The move coincides with confirmation that New Zealand privacy commissioner John Edwards is being lined up as the new UK Information Commissioner and that his role will change so he can be “empowered to encourage the responsible use of data to achieve economic and social goals”.

Details of how this will be achieved and what it means in practice have not been revealed.

However, the territories that ministers are prioritising striking data adequacy partnerships with have been, with the US, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia first in line, followed by India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia.

In the coming months, ministers will also set out details of potential future partnerships with other fast-growing economies such as Kenya, India, Brazil and Indonesia.

The Government insists that these deals will be subject to assessments that ensure high data protection standards, but crucially will build significantly on the £80bn of data-enabled service exports to these destinations from the UK every year.

Whitehall quotes estimates that suggest there is as much as £11bn worth of trade that goes unrealised around the world due to barriers associated with data transfers.

The Government says the aim is to move “quickly and creatively” to develop global partnerships which will make it easier for UK organisations to exchange data with important markets and fast-growing economies.

The partnerships will build on the existing 42 adequacy arrangements the UK has in place with countries around the world, including New Zealand, Japan and Canada, as well the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

The deals are part of new plans to use the power of data to drive growth and create jobs while keeping high data protection standards, ministers insist. The strategy will work hand in hand with the UK’s trade agreements and support the country’s trade agenda to unlock data flows and minimise what officials call “unjustified barriers or conditions”.

In addition, the Government is to set up a new council, comprised of experts from industry, academia and civil society to inform and consult on the UK’s international data transfers policy. It will include “the brightest and best minds from across the globe”, ministers claim.

However, the plans are unlikely to go down well with privacy groups. The Open Rights Group has already launched a campaign against the UK joining the Comprehensive & Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

It argues that, like trade deals with Japan and the US, the CPTPP’s access to foreign markets comes with a steep price – the gutting of Britain’s hard won data protection laws – as most CPTPP members have far lower privacy standards than the UK.

Meanwhile, the Government has confirmed NZ privacy chief Edwards as its preferred candidate to succeed Elizabeth Denham as the UK’s next Information Commissioner.

Whitehall insists Edwards will be empowered to go beyond the regulator’s traditional role of focusing only on protecting data rights, “with a clear mandate to take a balanced approach that promotes further innovation and economic growth”.

The Government maintains Edwards’ experience overseeing an independent country’s unique data regime also deemed ‘adequate’ to the EU’s GDPR will be vital.

It claims he will be able to help the UK achieve its aims of maintaining equivalence with the EU’s data standards, so personal data can continue to flow freely, while developing a new pro-growth approach to data law.

Plans to consult on the future of the country’s data regime have also been confirmed, with the aim is to make the country’s data regime “even more ambitious, pro-growth and innovation-friendly, while still being underpinned by secure and trustworthy privacy standards”.

In the coming weeks the Government will launch a consultation on changes to break down barriers to innovative and responsible uses of data so it can boost growth, especially for startups and small firms, speed up scientific discoveries and improve public services.

The consultation is expected to include the role of the ICO so it can be “empowered to encourage the responsible use of data to achieve economic and social goals as well as preventing privacy breaches before they occur”.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Now that we have left the EU I’m determined to seize the opportunity by developing a world-leading data policy that will deliver a Brexit dividend for individuals and businesses across the UK.

“That means seeking exciting new international data partnerships with some of the world’s fastest growing economies, for the benefit of British firms and British customers alike.

“It means reforming our own data laws so that they’re based on common sense, not box-ticking. And it means having the leadership in place at the ICO to pursue a new era of data-driven growth and innovation. John Edwards’s vast experience makes him the ideal candidate to ensure data is used responsibly to achieve those goals.”

Edwards said: “It is a great honour and responsibility to be considered for appointment to this key role as a watchdog for the information rights of the people of the UK.

“There is a great opportunity to build on the wonderful work already done and I look forward to the challenge of steering the organisation and the British economy into a position of international leadership in the safe and trusted use of data for the benefit of all.”

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