Privacy organisations fume at ‘weakened data laws’

data_adtech1Privacy groups have renewed their attack on the data protection reforms, which are being introduced to Parliament today, insisting the proposals will weaken consumers’ data rights and water down accountability.

The Open Rights Group has laid out its concerns in an open letter to Secretary of State for the new Department of Science, Innovation & Technology Michelle Donelan, signed by 26 civil society groups representing a range of sectors.

In what it brands “a misguided attempt to demonstrate the benefits of post-Brexit freedoms”, the group maintains the UK Government is setting the country on “a dangerous path to further economic instability and the erosion of fundamental rights”.

The letter focuses on several key areas of concern, including changes to data protection impact assessments that remove the requirement to consult with consumers who are affected by high risk processing as well as lowering the threshold for organisations to refuse a subject access request.

It also criticises new powers to create additional legitimate grounds for processing data and a new list of exemptions from the purpose limitation principle, as well as the shake-up of the ICO.

Finally, the letter slams proposals for the Government to approve international data transfers to countries where data protection is limited and national security bodies operate with little data protection oversight.

In a statement, the ORG said: “Though imperfect, the current UK GDPR is one of the strongest data protection laws in the world. While public attitudes and global policy are trending towards stronger data protections, the UK Government is attempting to regress.

“Strong data protection laws provide critical tools for civil society and individuals to protect themselves and hold organisations to account in a data ecosystem where all the power is skewed towards governments and corporations.

“Our letter sounds an urgent call for the Government to reconsider its undemocratic proposals. The Department of Science, Innovation & Technology must bring data protection reform back to the design stage and ensure that data protection experts, civil society and ordinary citizens are thoroughly consulted, to avoid another Bill based on unsubstantiated evidence and a lopsided consultation process.”

Meanwhile, James Walker, CEO of consumer data action service Rightly, reckons even existing legislation does not go far enough, maintaining that the ICO is largely toothless.

He added: “The new Bill is an important step in the right direction in ending the murky practices of data brokers in the UK. Such brokers style themselves as ‘marketing service providers’, but they ultimately profit from illegally selling people’s private and deeply personal information, making further legislation essential.

“The Government needs to prioritise consumers’ data online, and while it’s promising that the Bill is back in the Commons for discussion, it needs to outline how it will crack down on such illegal practices and how it will hold companies accountable for data misuse.

“Today’s update is allowing online marketeers greater use of so-called legitimate interest arguments for collecting people’s information and the ability for private companies to obtain such personal information for scientific research. It is unacceptable that companies should profit off user data, and consumers should have confidence in the legislation and laws that are there to protect them.

“If not, the public will continue to be exposed to inexcusable financial risk. The Bill should focus on empowering consumers to take back control of their data – and if it doesn’t – consumers should take this into their own hands.”

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