The Data Reform Bill was announced during this year’s Queen’s Speech. It was confirmed that the Data Reform Bill would strengthen the UK’s high data protection standards but reduce the burden on businesses. Very little information was released during the Queen’s Speech about the likely content of the Data Reform Bill.
The Government has however since released further information. Following London Tech Week, on 17 June 2022, the Government published its response to a consultation that was first launched on 10 September 2021 titled “Data: a new direction”. Within this response, the Government has set out how the Data Reform Bill will work in practice.
Data: a new direction
The response deals with five broad areas of data reform. We have summarised these below:
Reducing barriers to responsible innovation
The proposed reforms aim to promote innovation by providing more clarity in relation to the processing of data for scientific research. The Data Reform Bill will simplify the legal requirements around research so that scientists are not impeded from using data to conduct their research.
The Data Reform Bill will clearly define the scope of scientific research and give clarity on what scientists need to do to obtain a person’s consent to use their data for research purposes. Under the current rules, scientists can only obtain a person’s consent when they know the specific study they will be using the data for. The Data Reform Bill is intending to change this to give scientists the power to rely upon a person’s consent for their data to be used for any research in a certain field.
Reducing burdens on businesses and delivering better outcomes for people
The Government has confirmed that it feels there has been a lack of clarity surrounding the EU GDPR, which has resulted in businesses adopting a one-size-fits-all approach rather than assessing the risk of their actual data processing activities. The Data Reform Bill will focus on reducing the unnecessary burden on businesses. The effect will be that small businesses will not have to recruit an independent DPO if they can manage the risks effectively themselves. There will therefore be a shift to looking at precisely what data businesses are processing and the risk involved, rather than one rule for everyone.
Boosting trade and reducing barriers to data flows
The Government intends through the Data Reform Bill to create an autonomous framework for international data transfers that reflect the UK’s approach to data protection. The aim of this is to drive forward international commerce, trade, and development.
Delivering better public services
The Government has confirmed that it wants to create a data ecosystem for the public sector being a collaboration between the public and private sectors across all parts of the UK. The intention behind this is to improve the delivery of Government services through better use and sharing of personal data.
Reform of the Information Commissioner’s Office
The proposed reforms seek to better equip the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in performing its functions as a regulator. The ICO will be modernised to have a chair, chief executive, and a board to make sure it remains an internationally recognised regulator.
The ICO will also have new objectives that will give Parliament and the public the power to hold the ICO to account, an improvement upon the current regulations which do not give the ICO any clear framework of objectives and duties. The intention behind the reform is to create a stronger regulator who can take a risk-based and proactive approach, tackling the highest-risk data processing activities whilst helping other organisations comply with the law from the outset rather than simply telling them what they are doing wrong.
Whilst we are still some way from knowing exactly what the Data Reform Bill will look like, the Government’s response to the consultation “Data: a new direction” has shed some light on how the Data Reform Bill is likely to work in practical terms. It will be interesting to see what further information will be released in the coming months.
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