The Data Brief

A monthly data protection bulletin from the barristers at 5 Essex Chambers

Consultation on reform of the UK’s data protection regime: big, complex, and a very short turnaround

12 October 2021

“Data is now one of the most important resources in the world. It fuels the global economy, drives science and innovation, and powers the technology we rely upon to work, shop and connect with friends and family.”

And so, this revealing introduction opened the Government’s “Data: A new direction” consultation on reform on the data protection in place in the UK on 10 September 2021, which closes for responses on 19 November 2021.  The stated goals of the consultation, to reform the current data protection regime to “unleash” the power of data, are growth and innovation to enhance the UK’s reputation as a global hub for data driven business.

It is difficult to be brief about a 146-page consultation, but in summary the consultation is divided into 5 core chapters with the referenced proposals on “Reducing barriers to responsible innovation,” “Reducing burdens on businesses and delivering better outcomes for people,” “Boosting trade and reducing barriers to data flows,” “Delivering better public services,” and “Reform of the ICO”.

Each chapter comes with a range of detailed proposals: the common theme is a general intention to make the processing of personal data easier, as well as for Government to exercise greater control over the ICO. Although some of the proposals (such as clarifying the definition of ‘scientific research’, seeking to reducing unnecessary reporting of minor data breaches, and providing greater clarity on what ‘substantial public interest’ means for processing special category data) are very welcome, others appear to be a substantial relaxation of the existing regime. Certainly, it goes far further than amending the law as it relates to cookie pop-ups, as suggested by some ministers when the consultation was launched.

Indeed, the proposals are so extensive and wide-ranging that one could question whether the two-month consultation is really sufficient to engage meaningfully with it.  Interestingly, despite the Government’s objective to improve the commercial viability of data, the UK Market Research Society have suggested that the proposals could potentially undermine industry and the use of AI, as well as reduce public confidence in the use of their personal data. By contrast the London Stock Exchange Group have suggestion that reform may be the middle way balancing privacy rights with a practical approach to implementation.  Despite some concerns that the proposed reforms may undermine the adequacy agreement reached between the UK and EU, if it is accepted that the UK wants to expand its international reputation for data-driven innovation and maintain its high data standards, it is inevitable that whatever reform proposed will have to adequately meet the objectives of our EU neighbours – as judged not just by the Commission, but also the CJEU.

Further reading

Data: a new direction – consultation open until 19 November 2021

The Data Brief

A monthly data protection bulletin from the barristers at 5 Essex Chambers

The Data Brief is edited by Francesca Whitelaw KC, Aaron Moss and John Goss, barristers at 5 Essex Chambers, with contributions from the whole information law, data protection and AI Team.

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