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The UK’s 2022 Digital Strategy, what does it mean for UK data policy?

The Government’s new strategy identifies data as a key digital foundation upon which a vibrant, resilient, and growing digital economy can be built.

On 13 June 2022, the Government published its much-awaited updated Digital Strategy, following its last publication in 2017. techUK’s full summary and analysis of the strategy can be read here.

In its initial analysis, the Strategy identifies that the UK’s digital economy is flourishing, in-part due to the UK’s strength in key areas including its data-driven economy which grew twice as quickly as the rest of the economy during the 2010s, making up about 4% of the UK gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020.

Announcements for UK Data Policy:

To achieve its Strategy, the Government has identified six essential areas of action needed to support sustained digital growth, one of which is “Digital Foundations” that identifies the power of data as a key pillar for economic resilience and growth.

Under this pillar, the Strategy makes several commitments on data policy including:

  • Reforming the UK’s GDPR to better enable innovation and drive scientific research, while ensuring high standards of data protection and the uninterrupted free flow of personal data from Europe. Changes to the framework aim to reduce compliance for businesses and broaden the responsibilities of the regulator to give due regard to broader digital policy such as competition and innovation.

    techUK’s response to the Government’s consultation Data: a new direction, which outlines proposals for reforms can be found here.

  • Legislating for Smart Data to facilitate better consumer access and sharing of data through trusted third parties, which will also support smaller businesses to innovate. The primary legislation is set to come out during the current parliamentary session and aims to increase industry participation in Smart Data schemes. This will come alongside the establishment of a Smart Data Council in 2022, as well as Smart Data pilots and a challenge prize in 2023-2024.
  • Resisting unreasonable attempts at data localisation such as by ensuring international trade agreements facilitate the free flow of data with trust and continuing to be a global advocate for secure, trusted cross border data flows with likeminded countries. 
  • Enabling secure digital identities through forthcoming legislation which will provide secure and trusted avenues for public bodies to share data with organisations to validate a person’s identity. As part of the new Strategy, a revised version of the trust framework for digital identify technology will be published.
  • Other current initiatives include reference to the publication of the NDS Mission 1 Policy Framework, a call for views on Data Storage and Processing Infrastructure, Security & Resilience and the joint UK/US Prize Challenge to accelerate the development of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs)

The Strategy also references the power of data in other sections:

  • Harnessing the power of data in health and care to ensure patient data is used responsibly with the highest levels of privacy and patient safety across the NHS. Plans to deliver this will be outlined in more detail in the Department of Health and Social Care’s final data strategy for health and social care, “Data saves lives”.
  • Using data to improve public services by enabling better use of data across Government and between departments. To help achieve this and tackle other digital challenges identified in the Strategy, the Cabinet Office will publish a cross-Government digital and data strategy. The Centre for Digital and Data office (CDDO) also recently published its roadmap for digital and data 2022-2025, here.
  • Improving data skills by testing effective ways of teaching foundational data skills to students in several universities across the UK.
  • Leveraging the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) to deliver a regulatory landscape which is coherent and coordinated and can better support businesses with compliance. This will be vital as the Government seeks to reform its data protection regime which will affect businesses of all sizes and sectors across the UK’s economy. techUK looks forward to reviewing proposals related to the DRCF in the Government’s forthcoming response to the Data: a new direction consultation.

Separate to the Digital Strategy, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) yesterday announced, the launch of a new programme of work on responsible data access which aims to drive innovative approaches to tackling some of the barriers to responsible data sharing. This programme will support the implementation of Mission 1 of the National Data Strategy, including Smart Data schemes under BEIS. 

Will the Digital Strategy be enough for UK data policy?

techUK welcomes the Strategy’s recognition of the importance of data in driving the UK’s economic and digital growth and supports key policy interventions such as reform of the data protection regime and primary legislation for Smart Data as ways to drive UK data-driven innovation.  

It is also promising to see that the Strategy acknowledges current global challenges around data localisation requirements which hamper innovation and multinational cooperation. As well as continuing to be an international leader and advocate for the free flow of data with trust, the UK Government should also ensure data localisation requirements do not trickle into domestic government activities, such as contracting and procurement.

There are still also missing pieces in the UK Government’s Data Strategy and Digital Strategy, such as the opening up of key public sector and Government data sets which could help stimulate innovation and new products and services. The Strategy references the success of the publication of Transport for London live data and Government should use this model to open up other data sets for commercial use.

In delivering on the interventions outlined in the Digital Strategy, as well as the ambitions of the UK National Data Strategy (NDS), Government should continue to work closely with the National Data Strategy Forum to ensure a broad range of diverse perspectives continue to inform the implementation of the NDS.

UK Digital Strategy

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