Ministers accept advice to create data ethics council

The UK government is to set up an independent council to address concerns over privacy and security prompted by the use of big data.

Ministers this week accepted a recommendation by the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee to establish a Council of Data Science Ethics.

The body, which is expected to sit within the Alan Turing Institute, would “provide technical research and thought leadership on the implications of data science across all sectors”, the UK Government said.

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TechUK, which represents more than 900 companies, claimed the move would help foster “a culture of data confidence and trust” across the UK.

A Council of Data Ethics was one of 14 recommendations to be made by MPs in February after assessing the big data landscape across the UK.  

The House of Commons committee had suggested the creation of such an oversight body “offers the clarity, stability and direction which has so far been lacking from the European debate on data issues”.

Chair of the committee, Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood, said: “Big Data has enormous potential to improve public services and business productivity, but there are also justified privacy concerns when personal data is used in new applications, services and research. Getting the balance between the benefits and the risks right is vital.

“I am pleased therefore that the Government has accepted our call to set up a Council of Data Science Ethics to address the growing legal and ethical challenges associated with balancing privacy, anonymisation of data, security and public benefit.”

The Cabinet Office is also developing an “ethical framework for government data science”, details of which will be published “in the next few months”, according to the Government’s official response to the committee.

Sue Daley, head of cloud, big data and analytics for techUK, said: “The creation of a Council of Data Ethics is an opportunity for the UK to lead the world by establishing an independent body that can consider the legal, social and ethical issues raised by the big data revolution.

“As we move quickly towards a future driven by data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is vital that we have way to ask, discuss and consider questions about how data is used if we are to build a culture of data confidence and trust across the UK. These are big issues that neither government, industry or academia can tackle alone.”

Colin Marrs

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