Hello, and welcome to the first Data Policy Digest from Connected by Data!
With such a lot going on in data policy world at the moment – including the return of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill to parliament, the parliamentary progress of the Online Safety Bill, the expected Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, the AI White Paper and a select committee inquiry into AI Governance – we thought it was the perfect time to start a regular summary of everything going on.
If we’ve missed anything, you’d like to add something for next time, you have a view on whether this is useful or not, or you’d like to get more involved with our activities (especially around the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill), please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
Data policy developments
Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
As a quick recap… the National Data Strategy way back in September 2020 suggested there might be some legislation on data coming… then in September 2021 came the government’s Data: A New Direction consultation… May 2022 brought a mention of a Data Reform Bill, to reform the UK’s data protection regime, in the Queen’s Speech… June 2022 gave us the government’s response to Data: A New Direction and some clues as to what might be in the Bill… the Bill, now christened the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, appeared in parliament in July 2022… the second Commons reading of DPDIB was due to happen in September 2022 but was postponed as the UK changed prime minister (from Boris Johnson to Liz Truss)… everyone speculated as to how much the Bill had changed when new Secretary of State Michelle Donelan made a speech at Conservative Party conference… as we changed prime minister again (from Liz Truss to Rishi Sunak) it transpired there was to be some unofficial further consultation on the Bill… and the Bill reappeared, as the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill, for its first reading in the House of Commons on 8 March 2023 (although very little has really changed and it’s substantially the same as the old bill). No wonder we’ve heard some people refer to it as the Data Protraction Bill…
The second reading of the Bill – where MPs get to debate the principles of the Bill for the first time - took place on Monday, 17 April. In total, 20 MPs contributed - two ministers and two shadow ministers with opening and closing speeches, then seven Tories, four Labour MPs, two Lib Dems, and one MP each from Plaid Cymru, the SNP and DUP. The government reiterated its messages that the Bill would provide ‘simpler, easier, clearer regulation’ to make life better for business and allow greater innovation; Labour responded that the Bill would make rules even more complex, weaken protections and risk data adequacy, a ‘missed opportunity’ that ‘fails to meet [the] moment’; and MPs raised everything from the risks of automated decision making to the role of Big Tech in influencing the Bill. You can read the debate in Hansard, watch it on Parliament TV, or read tweet summaries from Connected by Data and the Open Rights Group. There’s also an interesting thread with replies from AWO’s Javier Ruiz on data adequacy with the EU in light of the UK co-hosting the Global Cross-Border Privacy Rules Forum. Writing for Labour List, Connected by Data’s Jeni Tennison took the opportunity to call on Labour to articulate its vision for data and AI as the Government sets out their stall.
The Bill now moves to Public Bill Committee until 13 June, where a group of MPs will examine the Bill in detail and have the power to call witnesses. They’re holding an oral evidence session on Wednesday 10 May - and have launched a call for written evidence.
We’ll be following the Bill through Committee and beyond. Keep an eye on our resources page, which includes links to some events we’ve already organised around the Bill (most recently in March) and lots of briefings from across civil society to help politicians (and the public) understand the Bill. And follow our Twitter accounts, Connected by Data and Data Reform, for more.
Bills, bills, bills
As for the other data and digital-related bills… the Online Safety Bill (OSB) entered committee stage in the House of Lords yesterday, Wednesday 19 April, where the Lords will examine the bill line by line. One of the many subjects covered by the Bill is the lack of researcher access to social media platform data - several civil society organisations are backing an amendment by Lord Bethell and Lord Clement-Jones to change that (the ODI recently published a piece about that and the other possible data angles in the Bill). We also await further news of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill (DMCCB, I’m not writing that out in full again) promised by the government. In the meantime, some Conservative MPs have formed a new group to think about regulation.
AI got ‘rithm
The term ‘long-awaited’ has been attached to most of government’s data and digital policy and legislative initiatives in recent years, but some of them are starting to make progress (or at least, appear)*. That includes the white paper on AI regulation, published at the end of March and out for consultation until 21 June. We weren’t hugely impressed by public voice being paid no more than lip service – our director of research, Tim, has blogged about nine considerations for effective global deliberation on AI - while our friends at the Ada Lovelace Institute also thought there were some significant gaps. Meanwhile, the Commons Science and Technology Committee continues to conduct hearings as part of its inquiry into AI governance. Connected by Data submitted written evidence – there’s a lot of it… The ICO has updated its guidance on AI and data protection (and blogged about generative AI, as well as responding to the white paper). And our director, Jeni, appeared on a Bennett Institute for Public Policy podcast on emerging technologies like generative AI. (Disclaimer: this newsletter has not been written by ChatGPT.)
*The semiconductor strategy is not one of them, it would seem.
Machinery of government changes
Data, digital and AI policy moved from DCMS to the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) in early February 2023. It also brings together parts of what used to be the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, which has also been split into a new Department for Business and Trade and a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero). One of DSIT’s six priorities is to ‘Deliver key legislative and regulatory reforms to drive competition and promote innovation’ which includes DPDIB, DMCCB and a ‘pro-innovation approach to regulating AI’, as well as getting the OSB through.
Many working in technology and civil society/academia welcomed the creation of a seat for science at the Cabinet table, but machinery of government changes can be disruptive, expensive and take time to bed in. It took an entire month for the department to complete its ministerial line-up, confirming that Julia Lopez – who was the junior minister responsible for DPDIB when it was at DCMS – would come over and adding Viscount Camrose as minister for AI. There’s certainly been a lot of activity at the department – as well as the bills and the AI white paper, there’s a new science and technology framework, an international technology strategy for ‘making the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030’ and a new secondment scheme among other things.
The creation of new departments also has implications for the select committees scrutinising them – DSIT will be scrutinised by the existing Science and Technology committee – and Labour could yet choose to reshuffle its frontbench to match up to them. Speaking of which…
‘Harnessing data for the public good’ is one of the four missions in Labour’s industrial strategy which launched last autumn (not to be confused with these overarching five missions, the delivery of which data will undoubtedly be critical to). Shadow minister Chi Onwurah reiterated that in her address to the State of Open Conference in February. There’s a bit more on Labour thinking below.
- We await the results of the Cabinet Office consultation on updating data sharing legislation around identity verification, due by 24 May.
- Sir Ian Diamond has been reappointed as the National Statistician until 2028. There’s supposed to be a Cabinet Office review of the UK Statistics Authority at some point soon, too.
- There’s to be a new Smart Data Council, smart data also being covered by DPDIBv2.
- Peter Wells shared some of the slides from the most recent National Data Strategy forum.
What we’ve been up to
- We’re working with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on a project about a new insight and analysis infrastructure to help improve how the ecosystem understands inequalities, and how to solve them. Tim’s written up the second workshop.
- We’re working with Labour Together to explore what a progressive data, digital and technology policy might look like. We’ve already convened a small group of experts to get things going and think about the principles and policies that might form part of such an approach. We’ll be opening that up to wider civil society (i.e. anyone reading this) shortly, including an online workshop as part of a regular data policy catch up we’ll be getting up and running soon. Get in touch if you’d like to know more. Jeni wrote about the need for an alternative Labour vision for LabourList this week.
What everyone else has been up to
- The TUC’s AI@Work conference, on the implications of AI in the workplace, got plenty of coverage - including from the BBC, The Guardian and the FT
- The justice system must make a fundamental shift to focus on data and evidence if it is to be more accessible, efficient and trusted by the public, according to the Justice Lab recently launched by the Legal Education Foundation We were commissioned to evaluate it. The Institute for Government’s Data Bites focused on justice data this month (and will do so again in a few weeks), including hearing from the Centre for Public Data about their new report on data gaps in the justice system
- While we’re on data gaps… fragmented public data is frustrating for users, policy makers and publishers and could be tackled by data standards, a central repository of the location of published data, and support from the data convener around publication, according to the Centre for Public Data and mySociety
- Where there is data, we should think about responsible data stewardship, the subject of a new ODI report
- There have been a few reports on the use of data during the pandemic published recently – the IfG said lessons should include government thinking twice about its DPDIB reforms, providing more and better guidance (including on public engagement) for public servants engaged in data sharing projects, and consulting on better data flows between national and local government, while the Royal Society’s Data for emergencies_ _was based on a public dialogue. And on the subject of data sharing, the ODI published a report on understanding the economic and social value of sharing data
- Demos have just published a new report on data privacy, an ‘exploratory investigation into how data sharing and data regulation practices are impacting citizens: looking into how individuals’ data footprints are created, what people experience when they want to exercise their data rights, and how they feel about how their data is being used’; while a few weeks back, the Tony Blair Institute published a big new report on how innovation can power the future of Britain and the Public Law Project published a register of algorithms being used by the UK government.
- Our next data policy catch up will be happening at 2pm on 9th May, and cover our work with Labour Together as well as reflecting on DPDIB and other data policy developments
- Demos and the Good Things Foundation have a discussion on ‘Accessing the Good Web: How can digital infrastructure empower citizens?’ on 27 April
- The IfG’s 41st Data Bites event takes place on 3 May (the 42nd follows on 17 May)
A selection of some links shared on the Connected by Data Discord, which you can sign up to here:
- Confronting Tech Power: The AI Now Institute’s 2023 Landscape Report
- A Blueprint for Education Data: Realising children’s best interests in digitised education from the Digital Futures Commission
- Exploring the role of public participation in commercial AI labs from the Ada Lovelace Institute
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