UK unveils post-Brexit global data plans
27 August 2021
The UK is launching a package of measures to help it seize the opportunities of data to boost growth, trade and improve its public services.
Data underpins innovation and the global digital economy, everyday apps and cloud computing systems. It allows businesses to trade, drives international investment, supports law enforcement agencies tackling crime, the delivery of critical public services and health and scientific research.
The government is outlining the first territories with which it will prioritise striking ‘data adequacy’ partnerships now it has left the EU as the United States, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia.
It is also confirming that future partnerships with India, Brazil, Kenya and Indonesia are being prioritised.
These new data adequacy partnerships, which will be subject to assessments that ensure high data protection standards, will build significantly on the £80 billion of data-enabled service exports to these 10 destinations from the UK every year.
Estimates suggest there is as much as £11 billion worth of trade that goes unrealised around the world due to barriers associated with data transfers.
The aim is to move quickly and creatively to develop global partnerships which will make it easier for UK organisations to exchange data with important markets and fast-growing economies. These new partnerships will build on the existing 42 adequacy arrangements the UK has in place with countries around the world.
It is part of new plans to use the power of data to drive growth and create jobs while keeping high data protection standards. It will work hand in hand with the UK's trade agreements and support the country’s ambitious trade agenda to unlock data flows and minimise unjustified barriers or conditions.
The government also names New Zealand Privacy Commissioner John Edwards as its preferred candidate to be the UK’s next Information Commissioner, following a global search.
As Information Commissioner and Head of the UK regulator responsible for enforcing data protection law, he will be empowered to go beyond the regulator’s traditional role of focusing only on protecting data rights, with a clear mandate to take a balanced approach that promotes further innovation and economic growth.
Plans to consult on the future of the country’s data regime are also being confirmed. The aim is to make the country’s data regime even more ambitious, pro-growth and innovation-friendly, while still being underpinned by secure and trustworthy privacy standards.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Now that we have left the EU I’m determined to seize the opportunity by developing a world-leading data policy that will deliver a Brexit dividend for individuals and businesses across the UK.
“That means seeking exciting new international data partnerships with some of the world's fastest growing economies, for the benefit of British firms and British customers alike.
“It means reforming our own data laws so that they're based on common sense, not box-ticking. And it means having the leadership in place at the Information Commissioner's Office to pursue a new era of data-driven growth and innovation. John Edwards's vast experience makes him the ideal candidate to ensure data is used responsibly to achieve those goals.”
John Edwards said: "It is a great honour and responsibility to be considered for appointment to this key role as a watchdog for the information rights of the people of the United Kingdom.
“There is a great opportunity to build on the wonderful work already done and I look forward to the challenge of steering the organisation and the British economy into a position of international leadership in the safe and trusted use of data for the benefit of all."
International data partnerships
Having left the EU, the Digital Secretary now holds powers to strike data adequacy partnerships with partners around the world.
The government believes it can unlock more trade and innovation by reducing unnecessary barriers and burdens on international data transfers, thereby opening up global markets to UK businesses. In turn this will help give UK customers faster, cheaper and more reliable products and services from around the world.
International data transfers are vital for everyday activities such as GPS navigation, video calls with family and friends, online banking, powering apps people use on a daily basis, retail, and businesses’ back office delivery.
Data adequacy partnerships, with countries or sectors which have high data protection standards, means organisations do not have to implement costly compliance measures to share personal data internationally.
Securing these arrangements will be a significant step in the UK’s ongoing plans to unlock the power of data to drive UK growth and innovation.
It will build on the adequacy arrangements the UK already has in place with international partners including New Zealand, Japan and Canada, as well the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
The move will strengthen existing relationships and make data-enabled trade easier, quicker and safer.
A Mission Statement on the UK’s approach to international data transfers and the ‘UK Adequacy Manual’ are also being published today. These will be used to inform the assessment of a territory’s commitment to high data protection standards.
These are alongside a call for experts to form a new council to inform and consult on the UK’s international data transfers policy. The council will consist of the brightest and best minds from across the globe and be drawn from industry, academia and civil society.
The government is also looking at potential future data sharing partnerships with other fast-growing economies such as Kenya, India, Brazil and Indonesia and will set out more details in the coming months.
New Information Commissioner
The country’s experience of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the power of using personal data responsibly in the public interest and the benefits of collaboration between the public and private sectors.
Data empowered start-ups to build real-time dashboards with the NHS to pinpoint where ventilators, beds and medics were needed the most. It helped the National Shielding Service to prioritise grocery deliveries to the vulnerable during the height of the pandemic; and major drug treatment and vaccine breakthroughs were driven by big data analytics and artificial intelligence.
The government wants to empower the Information Commissioner to promote the responsible use of data to stimulate innovation and economic growth and for Mr Edwards to bring a new perspective to the role alongside his wealth of data regulatory experience and 20-year career practising and specialising in information law.
His experience overseeing an independent country’s unique data regime also deemed ‘adequate’ to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be vital.
He will be able to help the UK achieve its aims of maintaining equivalence with the EU’s data standards, so personal data can continue to flow freely, while developing a new pro-growth approach to data law.
The UK’s future data protection regime
The UK is already a highly connected hub for data flows and consulting on reforms to UK data law will help build on this strength to ensure the country is the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.
The government wants to improve the UK’s data protection regime to make it even more ambitious and innovation-friendly while still being underpinned by secure and trustworthy privacy standards. It believes improved data sharing can help deliver more agile, effective and efficient public services and help make the UK a science and technology superpower.
For example, NHSX’s national database of chest X-Rays and images taken from hospital patients is being made available to researchers, clinicians and all those wanting to investigate COVID-19. This is helping professionals better understand the disease and develop technology enabling faster patient assessment and care in A&E, ultimately saving time and lives.
In the coming weeks the government will launch a consultation on changes to break down barriers to innovative and responsible uses of data so it can boost growth, especially for start-ups and small firms, speed up scientific discoveries and improve public services.
The consultation is expected to include the role of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) so it can be empowered to encourage the responsible use of data to achieve economic and social goals as well as preventing privacy breaches before they occur.
The proposal comes after the UK launched its Innovation Strategy and a plan to make the country a global leader in innovation-focused digital regulation to help cement the UK’s position as a world-leader in science, research and innovation.