Data governance is fundamental to our post-pandemic world

Coronavirus has shown the power of data and, according to Sue Daley of techUK, it is crucial that the UK implements the right laws to govern its use and protection

Credit: Michael Mandiberg/CC BY-SA 2.0 

Tackling the global pandemic has brought a new laser focus on the power of data. 

Data is central to confronting the challenges that this crisis has created; whether in relation to monitoring the R rate, delivering the vaccine rollout, or planning the delivery of public services – both now and once the pandemic has eased. Having passed the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, what has been made clear is that the use of data has never been more crucial for taking big decisions in public life.

In a similar way, data is also a vital tool in the private sector. Companies with access to data-driven software solutions such as e-commerce platforms, customer relationship management services, and cloud computing, were able to adapt more quickly to the impact of the pandemic, with the most digitally-capable companies reportedly able to grow up to eight times faster than those organisations which did not use these technologies.

Data governance could increase trust through a meaningful and proportionate approach to data protection, and by rethinking the paperwork of privacy to ensure firms focus their efforts on meaningful steps to secure data rather than form filling

Our reliance on data as a society has meant that data governance – the rules and norms of handling data – is fundamental in how we seek to build a smarter, more resilient economy post-pandemic. Greater trust and confidence in the system and structures that underpin data innovation will be key to driving adoption, take up and use of the next wave of innovative digital products and services.

With the UK preparing for a new era outside the European Union, there is an opportunity to build on the European data governance system which we helped develop along with the other member states. Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, has set out his vision for such a data governance system which includes an ambition to ensure that government and UK businesses alike can realise the opportunity to drive growth and innovation, while at the same time ensuring data is handled in a trusted way.

techUK welcomes the UK government’s approach, however believes that the key to unlocking these benefits is in getting the data governance system right. To help drive forward current thinking in this regard, we have recently published a discussion paper on how to get data governance right in the UK, focused on achieving trust, innovation, and global leadership.

At the heart of our thinking is the idea that the UK must take action to position itself as a pioneer in developing an agile and living data protection system which supports innovation and promotes privacy.

Walking the walk on this at home will also allow us to confidently engage in the global debate about the direction of data governance in a way which protects the global digital economy and guards against the fragmentation of the internet – an ever-increasing risk with several divergent approaches to data, and data localisation on the rise.

Meaningful and proportionate
Our discussion paper outlines key areas for action to help the UK position itself at the forefront of achieving a living data governance system underpinned by solid principles and objectives, including:

Supporting and encouraging data-driven innovation, by expanding the use of sandboxes and creating a Data Governance Forum between industry and government, civil society and the public to steer our approach to data;

Increasing trust through a meaningful and proportionate approach to data protection, by rethinking the paperwork of privacy to ensure firms focus their efforts on meaningful steps to secure data rather than form filling; ensuring that the legal basis for processing data is truly put on an equal footing and there is clarity about how different legal bases can be used in combination to offer a range of services; and reviewing the laws, such as the cookies law, to assess whether they provide meaningful benefits for privacy or not;

Becoming a leader in the global debate on data, by creating a globally orientated data transfer framework and leveraging our alliances and trade agenda post-Brexit to support international schemes for trusted data sharing.

As the world emerges from the global pandemic and prepares for other challenges, such as climate change, data governance will become more prominent in the discussions between world leaders. With the UK preparing to host the G7 and COP26 this year, there has never been a more important time to position the UK as a leader in this global debate on data. 

We hope that our discussion paper and our continued engagement with government and civil society is just the start of a detailed conversation to ensure that the UK’s data governance framework is fit for purpose for what comes next in an ever-changing world.



Sam Trendall

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