After a year of controversial referendum and election results, last week’s State Opening of Parliament was highly anticipated. For anyone burnt out by the non-stop political coverage, here’s a roundup of the most important points covered in the Queen’s Speech, specifically when it comes to post-Brexit data flow and online business.
What was in the speech?
While the speech outlined a wide range of Government policies, a few were notable by their absence. But unlike some less popular manifesto pledges, the new Data Protection Bill and ‘digital charter’ have made it through as centrepieces of the Government’s digital strategy. As Her Majesty put it:
“A new law will ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data, and proposals for a new digital charter will be brought forward to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online.”
So no big surprises there. Who could argue with better data protection and online safety? To see what this means in practice we need to dig a bit deeper. And of course, like all new policies and legislation, the context of Brexit makes all the difference.
The Data Protection Bill and the digital charter
The Data Protection Bill is intended to make UK law fit for purpose in relation to how data is handled and transferred. The bill will replace the Data Protection Act 1998 and make UK law broadly equivalent to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation due to come into force in May 2018. One prominent feature of the new bill is the right for individuals to demand the deletion of any data uploaded to social media before turning 18. This is very much in line with EU data protection rules and the ‘right to be forgotten’ concept, which is set to be further strengthened by the GDPR. As a central manifesto pledge, the digital charter is about ‘making the UK the best place to start and run a digital business and the safest place in the world to be online’.
The idea is to work closely with technology companies and other organisations to create a safer and more productive digital sector through investment and tax incentives, while also clamping down on online extremism and cyberattacks. With cybercrime costing UK companies nearly £30 billion in 2016, a more structured Government approach to online security is obviously welcome. But we’ll have to wait and see how the digital charter actually translates into real benefits for online businesses and consumers.
Brexit, GDPR and beyond
Taken as a whole, the Government’s approach to data protection supports the previous expectation that UK law will achieve equivalence to the GDPR. This means that cross-border data flow should be largely unaffected by Brexit. According to management consulting firm McKinsey, cross-border data transfer was worth 3.8% of global GDP in 2014, and 11.5% of all 2015 data transactions took place in the UK. The Government’s own figures indicate that digital industries contributed £118 billion to the UK economy in 2015, employing more than 1.4 million people across the country. With these statistics in mind, the Data Protection Bill is reassuring in so far as it commits the Government to uninterrupted data flow after Brexit.
The digital charter also hints at a more general commitment to helping businesses succeed in the online arena. Not only does this reduce uncertainty and help businesses plan for the future, it’s also good news for individuals, who can expect their data protection rights to remain equivalent to EU citizens. Ultimately, any organisation that intends to comply with the Data Protection Bill and GDPR will need a modern IT infrastructure.
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