MPs pass Digital Economy Bill despite concerns over data-sharing proposals

The Digital Economy Bill has passed its third reading in the House of Commons, with digital and culture minister Matt Hancock moving to allay fears around increased data-sharing powers within government.

MPs have passed the Digital Economy Bill and it will now move to the House of Lords – Photo credit: Fotolia

The bill covers a wide range of digital issues, including the controversial ruling that will force internet providers to block porn websites that do not impose age verification and provisions for broadband speeds.

Part 5, which focuses on digital government, has come under fire from privacy advocates, who called for a rethink of the data-sharing proposals, while witnesses to the Public Bill Committee urged government to provide more clarity on how the government will share personal data.

These concerns were echoed during the report stage, with Calum Kerr, the Scottish National Party MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, urging the government “to consider removing this whole part of the Bill and to revisit it once they have actually done a proper job” in drafting the legislation.

“I remain unconvinced that the government are heading in the right direction,” he said, adding that there was an “inherent paternalism” in the way it was not offering more information on how people’s data would be used.

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Instead, Kerr argued, the government should follow Estonia’s example – the country gives citizens access to details on who accesses their data – and said people should be notified every time their data is shared.

This would help boost public trust, he said, noting that “right from the start of the evidence-taking, people were saying that data-sharing is a good thing, but we must earn and retain public trust”.

Kerr said he saw “little evidence that the government understand that and are willing to do anything other than learn the hard way by making mistakes”.

Labour MP for Cardiff Kevin Brennan also urged caution about the sharing of confidential information and communicating with the public. He said: “In the aftermath of the scandal, it is vital that patients are able to patients are able to have trust in the confidential nature of the health service”.

Hancock said that he agreed with this sentiment, and said the government would consider the results of the review the Royal Society and British Academy are currently carrying out into the legal and ethical frameworks on data.

He also argued that the bill included “a number of commitments to transparency and proportionality in the disclosure of information by public authorities” and that the General Data Protection Data Regulation, which comes into force in May 2018, would cover concerns about the proper reporting of data breaches.

During the third reading, which took place directly after the report stage, Brennan said that the opposition would not be opposing the bill on third reading, but that this “is not the same as saying that we think it is a good bill. Its weaknesses lie as much in what it omits as what it contains”.

Similarly, Kerr said that the bill “has good intentions” but reiterated his belief that its execution “will be flawed”.

However, he added that he welcomed Hancock’s “commitment to continue to iterate and evolve the measures” in the bill. 

The bill will now pass to the House of Lords.


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