Brexit will mean data is ‘not inappropriately constrained’, minister says

Written by PublicTechnology staff on 12 November 2020 in News
News

Data minister John Whittingdale says government hopes for agreement with EU, but organisations should prepare for no deal

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The government will use the UK’s departure from European Union law to “ensure that data is not inappropriately constrained by national borders and fragmented regulatory regimes,” media and data minister John Whittingdale has said.

The UK is still seeking agreement with the EU on data adequacy, which would recognise that the UK’s controls on personal data are sufficient to safeguard the handling of information on EU citizens. However, the minister warned that it may not be possible to agree this before the transition period ends on 31 December.

“We don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t get adequacy because our rules were originally framed by the EU and we don’t intend to radically depart from that,” Whittingdale told an online event run by the Open Data Institute on 11 November. He added: “We’ve been talking to businesses right across the UK, to encourage them to put in place the alternative transfer mechanisms which are necessary if adequacy is not achieved and which will ensure that data transfers continue.”

In October, Whittingdale said that the government had legislated so that personal data can flow one-way from the UK to the 30 European Economic Area countries, as well as to the 27 EU member states for law enforcement, until the end of 2024 if no deal on data adequacy is reached.

The minister said there is potential to do more with data. “In so many different areas of government activity, if we draw upon data sets which are already there but which perhaps have not been properly exploited, we can use those to increase understanding and ultimately to deliver better public services,” he said, in areas including tackling domestic abuse. He added that the National Data Strategy, published in September, demonstrates the government’s ambitions in this area.

Speaking at the same event, UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that different organisations sharing personal data can have benefits. “We were able to support work to share information between public authorities and supermarkets, so they could share information to support people shielding during Covid-19,” she said, allowing retailers to prioritise those who most needed home deliveries when demand far outstripped supply.

But she emphasised the importance of retaining trust in such work. “The supermarket data-sharing innovation worked because it had people’s trust,” she said. “That’s crucial, because people’s personal data is just that: personal.” She highlighted examples of how public authorities have abused such trust, such as by wrongly labelling a young man within a shared database on gang activity.

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