‘Vital for national security’ – former minister urges rethink on plan to diverge on EU data laws

Lord Kirkhope claims costs of failing to maintain close ties with Europe will outweigh even the government’s claimed benefits of £11bn

Credit: Nick Youngson/CC BY-SA 3.0/Pix4free.org

A former minister has called for an urgent rethink on government plans to break from European data laws, which he claimed pose serious economic and national security risks.

Since the Brexit process was completed, ministers have frequently talked up the government’s ambition to reshape the UK’s data-protection landscape and move away from what is characterised as the bureaucratic “box-ticking” of the EU General Data Protection Regulation. 

Such talk has now been codified in the new Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which puts forward a range of proposals to “remove the UK GDPR’s prescriptive requirements”, according to the government. This includes reducing the requirements placed on firms to employ a named data-protection officer and conduct impact assessments.

Lord Kirkhope – now a Conservative peer, who served as immigration minister in the 90s – has warned that “simply because we can diverge [from EU laws] does not mean that we should… the benefits are negligible at best”.

“The likely result would be the United Kingdom no longer being recognised as a ‘trusted partner’ in the field of data security and the end of a free flow of data,” Kirkhope said, in a piece written exclusively for PublicTechnology sister publication The House.

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Kirkhope called for the next prime minister to act quickly to change direction, and implement a policy of “dynamic alignment with European data protection regulation as it evolves over the coming years”.

“This does not mean simply taking and blindly implementing new rules but actively engaging with the European Union as a partner,” he added.

Kirkhope, who spent 17 years as a member of the European Parliament before joining the House of Lords in 2016, said that GDPR provides benefits for the UK’s national security and economy, as well offering strong protections for consumers.

Ministers have previously claimed that deregulation could unlock £11bn of economic benefits for the UK, but Kirkhope said that “the potential loss of data flows will cost business far more” in the long term. He cited the £42bn value of “data-enabled services exports to the UK” from EU countries, as well as the £85bn of goods and services exported in the opposite direction.

Beyond the economic benefits, the Tory peer said that frictionless data exchanges with Europe “are absolutely vital from a national security perspective”, with EU systems providing “essential tools [that are] used on a daily basis by our law enforcement agencies”. The Schengen Information System – which authorities across the continent use in security and border checks – was referred to by UK police officers 603 million times during 2019, Kirkhope said.

He added: “Equivalence on data policy is a pragmatic solution to an issue that will continue to mount as the world becomes ever more digitally inter-connected and an opportunity to take advantage of both parties’ shared goals.”

Click here to read Lord Kirkhope’s full piece on The House


Sam Trendall

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