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Britain to take a ‘slightly less European approach’ to data privacy laws, minister says

While UK is not directly subject to the EU’s jurisdiction post-Brexit, it still needs to have sufficient measures in place to protect the personal data of European users

Dev Kundaliya –

11 March 2021

The UK could reform its data protection laws in coming months to make them more business-friendly as the government aims to increase economic growth following the slump caused by the pandemic.

“There is a sweet spot for the UK whereby we hold onto many of the strengths of GDPR in terms of giving people security about their data,” said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.

“But there are obviously areas where I think we can make more progress.”

According to Dowden, Britain needs to take a “slightly less European approach” on privacy and should focus more on the results that “we want to have” following the country’s exit from the European Union (EU).

“As we move from sustaining the economy [during the pandemic], to the real drive for growth – and goodness knows, we’re going to need a huge amount of growth – digital and tech are absolutely at the forefront of that,” said Mr Dowden.

“I’m seeking to set out where we are going to go with data now that we have left the European Union and are not subject to EU jurisdiction.”

Following Brexit, Britain is not directly subject to the EU’s jurisdiction, although it still needs to have sufficient measures in place to protect the personal data of European users.

Last month, the European Commission was reported to be mulling a positive data adequacy decision for the UK to allow data to continue to flow from the EU to the UK following Brexit.

The expected decision would be a big relief for tens of thousands of businesses in the UK – specifically those in the health, technology and insurance sectors – which share personal customer information on a regular basis and feared the worst post-Brexit.

The European Commission said that it would re-examine the data adequacy decision every four years to ensure that the privacy of EU citizens is not compromised by the UK rules.

Vera Jourova, EU vice-president for values and transparency, said last month that the bloc will be keeping an eye on any backsliding when forming new trade deals with the UK.

Dowden’s statements come as the government is advertising for a new Information Commissioner, saying it is looking for an “exceptional candidate with a demonstrable desire to deliver a new approach to data in the UK”.

In a Financial Times article last week, Dowden said that he wants the UK’s new information commissioner to focus not just on data privacy but also on the use of data for “economic and social goals”.

Dowden said that under the current regime many organisations and businesses are unwilling to use data, either because “they don’t understand the rules or are afraid of inadvertently breaking them”.

The minister added that there is no need to copy and paste the EU’s rulebook while drafting rules for Britain.

Dowden also said that Britain now has the freedom to strike its own partnerships, and that he would soon announce priority countries for data adequacy agreements.

The Open Rights Group (ORG), which has criticised many ICO decisions in the past, says the government’s ‘new approach to data’ signifies a move to weaken data protection measures.

The news of the government’s proposed plan to reform data protection laws comes as the number of ‘information and communication’ jobs in the country has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with more individuals now employed in the sector than at any time in its history.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Britain’s IT sector employed about 1.6 million people in Q4 2020, versus 1.5 million in Q4 2019.

The IT industry has created more than 100,000 jobs since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and more than 300,000 jobs over the last three years.

Around two-thirds of the UK’s tech leaders will seek to increase their teams in the Q1 2021, according to a recent Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey.

Data scientists, data analysts and individuals with AI and cyber skills are in particularly high demand, according to the survey, and the market for software developers is also growing.

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