The Data Brief

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

Dropped, again: the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

28 May 2024

In the March 2023 Data Brief article Once more, with feeling: the return of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill’, we analysed the second iteration of this Bill. By way of recap of this Bill’s tortuous history, the Data Protection and Digital Information (No.1) Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech 2022, introduced to the House of Commons in July 2022 but withdrawn before its second reading following the ascension of Liz Truss. Ministers took the opportunity to tinker with the text (“co-design process with business leaders and data experts”) and the Data Protection and Digital Information (No.2) Bill (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the House of Commons on 8 March 2023.

When Rishi Sunak announced the 4th July 2024 General Election, the Bill was in the late stages of its legislative journey. With Parliament due to be dissolved on 30th May, it is perhaps no surprise (given its limited political relevance) that the Bill did not make it onto the shortlist of Bills to be considered within the limited remaining parliamentary time (‘the wash up’). The effect is that the Bill has, again, been dropped due to unrelated political developments rather than its merits.

The narrative behind the Bill was that of seizing “the post-Brexit opportunity to ‘create a new UK data rights regime tailor-made for our needs’”, boosting the economy by £4.7 billion over the next decade by reducing regulatory burden. The Bill included clarification of data protection concepts to assist controllers, simplifying the rules for use of personal data in scientific research and scientific development as well as a firmer line on ‘vexatious or excessive requests’ to controllers by data subjects. More controversial aspects of the Bill included giving the Department for Work and Pensions more powers to check personal financial data to reduce benefit fraud.

The Bill’s revival in 2023 received a mixed reception from stakeholders and this is reflected in reactions to its demise in 2024, from a measure of relief (DPO Centre, Ada Lovelace Institute) to “disappointment” (techUK IT industry association). A major concern was the risk that the Bill diverged sufficiently from the EU data protection regime to impact the crucial UK data adequacy status (which is periodically reviewed by the EU). That crisis point has now been delayed, if not averted.

Will there be a further comeback for the Bill? Possibly, but not imminently. Whatever the result of the General Election, the future Government will have their hands full legislating to implement the legislative pledges on which it was elected. If the next Government is a Labour one, the pro-business tilt of the Bill may nonetheless appeal to Labour’s pledge to be the most ‘pro-business government’ the UK has ever seen, resulting in the Bill being revisited, but probably in significantly amended form. In the age of AI, data protection legislation will not fade into obscurity, regardless of the Government of the day, so interested parties are likely to have another opportunity to contribute ideas about a further revival of this legislation.

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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