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DCMS announces post-Brexit data reform plans and preference for the next Information Commissioner

DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden MP sets out his early priorities for reform of the UK’s data governance system post-Brexit.

The Government has announced a significant set of intended changes to the UK’s approach to data Governance in the UK including;

  • A new approach to UK adequacy decisions as well as a list of priority countries the UK wishes to agree data partnerships with,
  • An upcoming consultation on the future of the UK’s data protection regime,
  • New Zealand’s privacy commissioner John Edwards has been announced as the Government's preference to be the new Information Commissioner.

A new approach to UK adequacy decisions:

Having left the European Union (EU) the UK Government has announced a new approach to agreeing data adequacy agreements with third countries.

Countries that are granted data adequacy partnerships should they have high levels data protection, equivalent to those found in the UK. When transferring personal data to countries or sectors with data adequacy businesses are not required to implement additional safeguards such as standard contract clauses.

Estimates from the United Nations suggest there is as much as £11 billion worth of global trade that goes unrealised due to barriers associated with data transfers. By seeking to expand the network of countries with UK data adequacy the Government is hoping to unlock more of this trade.

However, in doing so the UK will need to set out mechanisms to reassure existing partners with adequacy agreements, for example the EU, which require that the data of their citizens is not transferred onward to jurisdictions which are not yet recognised by the EU or other partners.  

As part of this announcement the Government has released guidance on the UK’s approach to international data transfers including  (i) a Mission Statement on the UK's approach to international data transfers which contains information on the legislative provisions for the new regime. (ii) Technical information on the process and criteria for UK Adequacy agreements, this includes a Manual for assessors to comprehensively determine whether a jurisdiction has equivalent data protection practices to the UK. (iii) A call for experts to join a new International Data Transfers Expert Council that will be consulted on the programme of ongoing and future work, comprising of technically knowledgeable stakeholders.

The Government has identified the United States, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia as partners it wishes to prioritise for new adequacy decisions. The Government is also confirming that future partnerships with India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia are being considered.

Consultation on the future of the UK’s data protection regime:

The Government will launch a new consultation on the future of the UK’s data protection regime with the Government setting the aim of consultation to make the UK’s data protection system more ambitious and innovation-friendly while still being underpinned by secure and trustworthy privacy standards.

While maintaining the principles of the GDPR the consultation is expected to seek to make changes to break down barriers to innovative and responsible uses of data so it can boost growth, especially for startups and small firms, speed up scientific discoveries and improve public services.

The consultation is also expected to include the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) so it can be empowered to encourage the responsible use of data to achieve economic and social goals as well as preventing privacy breaches before they occur.

DCMS announces its preference for the new Information Commissioner:

The Secretary of State has announced that the Government’s preferred candidate for the next Information Commissioner is John Edwards, currently New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner.

To the role Edwards will bring his experience as Privacy Commissioner for New Zealand as well as 20 years of practicing law with a specialism in information law.

Mr Edwards will appear before MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for pre-appointment scrutiny on 9th September 2021. Under the Data Protection Act, the Information Commissioner is appointed the Queen on the basis of fair and open competition following a recommendation from ministers.

The final appointment of the new Information Commissioner is expected to take place in the autumn of 202. techUK looks forward to working with the new Information Commissioner once appointed.

Commenting on the annoucement, techUK's Director of Market's Matt Evans said: 

“This set of ambitious announcements is welcome. Data is a foundational asset for modern societies, creating accessible and trusted routes for businesses, civil society and researchers to access data from around the world will help drive innovation and create better digital services.

However, these new routes must be trusted and command the confidence of the public. techUK therefore welcomes the technical assessment criteria and commitment to high privacy standards laid out by the Government. Both of these will be vital to maintaining access to existing data flows, such as from the EU as well as opening up global opportunities.

The announcement of a new preferred candidate for Information Commissioner as well as the Government’s intention to consult on reforms to improve the UK’s data protection regime mark an exciting development in the implementation of the UK’s National Data Strategy. techUK and our members look forward to working with the Government and the regulator as these proposals are developed.”

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