New ICO to ‘boldly’ lead UK into global data economy

parliament newThe Government is targeting the data industry as one of the key drivers of growth, both in domestic and international markets, claiming that now the country has left the EU it is free to secure highly-lucrative export deals as well as be at the forefront of the global, data-driven economy.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has outlined the new strategy in the Financial Times, writing: “After years of seeing data solely through the lens of risk, Covid-19 has taught us just how much we have to lose when we don’t use it.”

As the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport launches the search for a new Information Commissioner to succeed Elizabeth Denham, Dowden insists he wants to see the regulator’s office take a “bold new approach that capitalises on all we’ve learnt during the pandemic, which forced us to share data quickly, efficiently and responsibly for public good”.

And, in light of Brussels publishing the draft adequacy deals which, if passed, would allow the free flow of data to continue between the UK and EU nations, Dowden insists the UK will maintain those “world class standards”.

However, he added: “We do not need to copy and paste [GDPR] word-for-word. Countries as diverse as Israel and Uruguay have successfully secured adequacy with Brussels despite having their own data regimes. Equal doesn’t mean the same; the EU doesn’t hold the monopoly on data protection.

“Right now, too many businesses and organisations are reluctant to use data – either because they don’t understand the rules or are afraid of inadvertently breaking them. This has hampered innovation. Clearly, not using data has real-life costs.”

Dowden goes to explain that the next Information Commissioner will not just be asked to focus on privacy, but also be empowered to ensure people can use data to achieve economic and social goals.

In addition, he insists that, post-Brexit, the UK now has more freedom to strike international data trade deals, and cites Government estimates that £11bn of UK service exports currently go unrealised due to barriers to international data transfers.

He writes: “Being more agile the UK can capitalise on a multi-billion pound opportunity to boost trade in sectors where physical distance is no object. I will shortly announce our priority countries for data adequacy agreements.”

Dowden concludes: “Appointing a new Information Commissioner is just the first stage in this process. But it will mark the beginning of a new era in the UK – one where we start asking ourselves not just whether we have the right to use data, but whether, given its potential for good, we have the right not to.”

The plans are unlikely to go down well with data protection purists and privacy groups, who claim the Information Commissioner already prioritises areas such as data ethics and regulatory sandboxes rather than tackling data protection enforcement.

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