Data Policy Digest

Gavin Freeguard

Gavin Freeguard

Hello, and welcome to our tenth Data Policy Digest, bringing you all the latest data and AI policy developments. I don’t know about you, but after a long (if fun and interesting) year, I feel like I’m stumbling towards the finishing line - though with a steeplechase-sized hurdle, in the form of the Lords debating DPDIB today, now firmly in view.

This will be the last Digest of 2023 - thanks for reading this year, and I hope it’s been useful. My new year’s resolutions are to make it shorter and more frequent. If you want to give a friend the gift of data this Christmas, why not encourage them to subscribe?

Have a wonderful festive season and see you in 2024! (Unless you decide you would like to follow me live-tweeting the DPDIB debate…)

If there’s something we’ve missed, something you’re up to that you’d like us to include next time or you have any thoughts on how useful the Digest is or could be, please get in touch via We’re on Twitter @ConnectedByData and @DataReform. You can also catch up on Digest #1, Digest #2, Digest #3, Digest #4, Digest #5, Digest #6, Digest #7, Digest #8 and Digest #9.

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Data policy developments

Deeply DPDIB

Well, yes. Very much so.

The Bill has made it through the Commons after Report Stage and Third Reading debate, which we’ve written up. In short: MPs were furious that the government had dropped in 240+ amendments the week before - including controversial ones on giving DWP access to data on benefit claimants’ bank accounts (including pensioners) and changing direct marketing rules in the run-up to an election - though an attempt to send it back to committee for scrutiny failed; all non-government amendments (on automated decision making, sensitive data, high-risk processing and those ‘democratic engagement’ details) failed; and the Bill passed.

Attention now turns to the Lords, where the Bill will be debated at Second Reading today, Tuesday 19 December - with several MPs hoping the Lords will be able to perform the scrutiny that the Commons couldn’t (though it is the last day of term). We’ve published our briefing, as has the Lords Library, and we’ll be updating our DPDIB resources page with any others we see (and feel free to add your own).

On those controversial DWP bits… DWP Secretary of State Mel Stride was up before the Work and Pensions Committee last Wednesday 6 December, telling them there was no intention to ‘delve into’ state pensioners’ bank accounts (the Committee has since written to the minister calling for a rethink)… that same day, the Public Accounts Committee published a report on underpayment of the state pension (which also called for action on tackling fraud and error in the benefits system)… Labour’s Lord Sikka criticised the measures (erosion of rights, focus on the wrong areas for fraud - pandemic procurement, anyone?) for Left Foot Forward … while Computer Weekly and, er, GB News were among those giving the debate some critical attention.

There’s also been increasing interest in the implications of the Bill for health data - Understanding Patient Data have a long read on what the Bill might mean for health … the National AIDS Trust wrote about that for PoliticsHome … the FT looks at the ‘democratic engagement’ section, ‘New data bill criticised for loosening rules on direct marketing sent to voters’, while the National’s take on the democratic engagement bit was ‘Tories change key General Election rules “to help themselves”’ … and another amendment, granting coroners access to the social media accounts of children who have taken their own lives (something discussed around the Online Safety Act), is causing controversy with bereaved parents saying it falls short of what was promised (more from 5Rights).

Meanwhile, you may remember there’s also a statutory instrument (a piece of secondary legislation) redefining what various data protection rights mean. A hat tip to David Erdos (whose briefing on the issue you can read) for spotting that it’s been debated in the Commons and the Lords (Lords Tim Clement-Jones and Steve Bassam considering their concerns a curtain-raiser for next week’s DPDIB debate).

Elsewhere… the European Council has adopted the Data Act, a new law on fair access to and use of data… ITPro reports that the scope of GDPR fines will be limited under a new EU ruling.. the Court of Justice of the EU has ruled ‘that decision-making by scoring systems that use personal data is unlawful’ (a more legal take here)… and if you want to read more about cookies (one focus of DPDIB) and how they work on GOV.UK there’s a nerdy, niche but nourishing take from an old GOV.UK hand.

Bills, bills, bills

AI Bill Yes, you read that right. There’s an AI Bill! But you can calm down - it’s a Private Members’ Bill, tabled by Lord Holmes, and these don’t tend to become law. My (no-inside-information) take is that it could be an attempt to show how easy it would be to put a regulatory regime into statute, given the criticisms levelled at the AI White Paper for stopping short of that (a theme of Michelle Donelan’s select committee appearance, covered below).

Online Safety Act Ofcom and DSIT officials were up in front of the Public Accounts Committee on preparedness for online safety regulation… Ofcom has published some more guidance, on ‘protecting children from online pornography’, and its proposed work plan for next year … Baroness Bertin has been appointed as independent lead reviewer on a new illegal pornography, abuse and exploitation review‘I was addicted to social media - now I’m suing Big Tech’ (BBC News)… and… Bloomberg reported that the government may be planning a crackdown on teen social media use … something the deputy prime minister appeared to confirm on the Sunday morning media round… as Politico wonders who is even asking for it.

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill A busy month for this Bill, too, with Report and Third Reading in the Commons, Second Reading in the Lords, and a load of supporting documents from DSIT. Labour (through Baroness Jones of Whitchurch) have put down some amendments already. Committee Stage starts on 22 January. Meanwhile… George Peretz KC has written about the constitutional implications of the Bill (some of its powers are apparently unprecedented)… the CMA continues its cloud services market investigation … and Politico have a piece on ‘How Big Tech learned to love Britain’s libertarians’.

Investigatory Powers Meta has started rolling out end-to-end encryption for its Messenger function, which left Home Secretary James Cleverly unimpressed … Big Brother Watch did a briefing for Lords Second Reading, which happened on 20 November… Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said the balance between security and privacy should be a matter for ‘public debate’. Lords Committee stage is now underway, with Report scheduled for 23 January.

Other It’s Lords Committee next for the Automated Vehicles Bill, as DSIT and DfT publish updated guidance for Trialling automated vehicle technologies in public and Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt Resigns After Weeks Of Crisis (Forbes)… the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill, which covers data and digital trade, is in Lords Committee… in Europe, Meta and TikTok challenge EU over Digital Markets Act (Tech Monitor) as the Commission formally investigates whether X formerly known as Twitter has breached the Digital Services Act … and if you were already readying your best Brenda from Bristol impression for the glut of legislation, there may yet be more as Government proposes powers for police and departments to prevent people deleting computer data (Public Technology).

AI got ‘rithm

At least the Summit’s out the way, eh? Though actually… we have the final Summit update from our People’s Panel … the Good Things Foundation wrote up their Fringe event on AI and the digital divide … there’s video of the APPG on the Future of Work event, From the Summit to the Road Ahead … and Summit sherpa Matt Clifford is stepping down as CEO at Entrepreneur First to focus on an AI-specific role.

The big government news on AI includes the White Paper response not being published this year, it’ll come in early 2024 (as recently as the Autumn Statement, this year was still the plan)… and Oliver Dowden ‘launching’ the Incubator for AI (we’ve known it’s existed for a while even if details were scarce) with the headline, Oliver Dowden’s ‘hit squad’ aims to replace UK civil service jobs with AI (Politico)… if you’d like one of those jobs helping to replace jobs, you can sign up for details… Treasury has also been talking about a Productivity Programme to cut admin workloads to free up frontline staff… and the NCSC has published new ‘Guidelines for secure AI system development’. Keep an eye out for a new framework for generative AI in government, too.

Let’s not forget the OpenAI hokey-cokey of mid-November, with Sam Altman in, out, then shaking it all about. After he was fired by the board, Mira Murati was briefly interim CEO, before former Twitch-er Emmett Shear took the hot seat; president Greg Brockman quit and tweeted about it; then came the ‘OpenAI board in discussions with Sam Altman to return as CEO’; then Altman returned.

Altman had apparently been planning to launch his own firm … the board had apparently been feuding before the ouster, which is mainly an excuse for me to use the word ‘ouster’… and apparently ‘OpenAI leaders warned of abusive behavior before Sam Altman’s ouster’, which is another excuse to use the word ‘ouster’… Karen Hao examined claims that the Q* algorithm might have set everything in motion (she chose the right time to write a book about it) … there are any number of takes but interesting ones included Sam Altman and OpenAI Are Victims of Their Own Hype (New York Magazine), AI belongs to the capitalists now (New York Times), and How Silicon Valley reunited Sam Altman and OpenAI (FT)… while OpenAI might have other things to worry about, according to 404 Media’s story, ‘Google Researchers’ Attack Prompts ChatGPT to Reveal Its Training Data’. If you’d rather listen to something, BBC Sounds have Artificial Implosion on the whole affair… The Bunker discussed it too… and Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage asked how I is AI?. There were at least two good jokes, too.

Perhaps more consequentially, and also somewhat dramatically, the EU passed the AI Act. Though this came after France, Germany, Italy pushed for ‘mandatory self-regulation’ for foundation models in EU’s AI lawtalks broke down … EDRI coordinated an open letter on not trading away rights, Avaaz on not making concessions to industry lobbying, there was another sent to the German government, and Politico looked at how France’s hopes for AI clashed with, well, France’s approach to regulating tech… with subsequent negotiations around foundation models ultimately proving successful. The FT argues that Brussels setting rules for AI isn’t pretty, but someone’s got to do it … one of the architects, Dragos Tudorache, spoke to the Special Competitive Studies Project… while Foreign Policy looked at international approaches to regulation.

Meanwhile… Google/DeepMind have launched their latest AI model, Gemini (there’s a digital twin joke in there somewhere)… GNoME found 2.2 million new crystalsHMT welcomed some Microsoft AI investment … an ex-Tesla employee cast doubt on car safety as the company recalled two million cars … Rishi Sunak finally, sort of, condemned Musk for anti-semitism after Labour condemned him for not doing so, and MP Daniel Zeichner had some fun with the Sunak/Musk love-in…

Axel Springer strikes landmark deal with OpenAI over access to news titles (FT)… AI chief quits over ‘exploitative’ copyright row (FT)… Shadow culture secretary: Tories have let creative industries down on AI (The Stage)… AI IS ABOUT TO PHOTOSHOP YOUR MEMORIES (The Atlantic)…

The New York Times did a ‘who’s who’ of the modern AI movement - see if you can guess what’s missing, a theme the Guardian also picked up recentlyData centres ‘straining water resources’ as AI swells (… The weather forecast may show AI storms ahead (FT)… Stanford HAI hosted an ‘In Conversation’ with Mustafa Suleyman and Marietje SchaakeAI presents a ‘Brexit opportunity’ for Britain but there are risks (FT)… This Congressional Candidate Is Using AI To Have Conversations With Thousands Of Voters (Forbes)… Cambridge University launches Institute for Technology and Humanity … and the ‘Problem is not that machines may one day exercise power over humans… but that we already live in societies in which power is exercised by a few to the detriment of the majority and technology provides a means of consolidating that’.

DSIT up and take notice

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … yes, when departments rush lots of things out before the break, so keep an eye on GOV.UK and written ministerial statements over the next few days. (The Home Office has one coming on the UK-US Data Access Agreement.)

The Autumn Statement (the major fiscal event of the year that isn’t the Budget) had a fair amount for DSIT, from compute to quantum to regulatory sandboxes - the department picked out their highlights (and on X formerly known as Twitter). There’s also a Smart Data ‘Big Bang’, highlighting seven sectors: energy, banking, finance, retail, transport, homebuying and telecoms. (The clues were also there for the DWP/DPDIB amendment deluge.)

Ministerial portfolios have been confirmed for newbies Saqib Bhatti (includes online safety, digital regulation, digital identity and being AI lead in the Commons) and Andrew Griffith (including innovation, regulating innovation and the research councils). Both recently did LinkedIn Q&As (Bhatti, Griffith); Bhatti spoke at the recent AI Faith and Civil Society Commission about the importance of having a public conversation about AI; and Griffith took part in an Onward panel about measuring success in becoming a science superpower.

The department has been looking for a chief scientific adviser, while government CSA Dame Angela McLean received a government response to her cross-cutting review on pro-innovation regulation. The new DCMS CSA, Tom Crick, will be looking at the impact of AI on culture, heritage and the creative industries.

We have DSIT civil service staff numbers for the first time (890, with an additional 240 at Building Digital UK; 1,600 at the Intellectual Property Office; 2,220 at the Met Office; and 290 at the UK Space Agency). That doesn’t cover all DSIT’s public bodies - and remember, some significant organisations (like the AI Safety Institute) are part of the department itself. You can see how DSIT compares to others, and there’s also the even more granular workforce management information, for the real government geeks. The department is also establishing a second headquarters in Manchester.

In other news… CDEI published results from the third wave of its Public Attitudes Tracker Survey, which monitors how attitudes towards data and AI vary over time (they’ve also summarised it in a blogpost)… Entries are open for the ‘landmark’ £1 million Manchester Prize, for pioneering AI innovations tackling some of society’s biggest challenges … there’s a new consultation on Protecting and enhancing the security and resilience of UK data infrastructure (summary)… some updated AI assurance case studies, including one from our friends at IFOW … ‘New business guidance to boost skills and unlock benefits of AI’… ‘New digital map of underground pipes and cables on track to grow economy by £5 billion’… details of the UK-Republic of Korea Digital Partnership … a government response to the consultation on ‘Powers in relation to UK-related domain name registries’… the International Data Transfers Expert Council published research, ‘Towards a sustainable, multilateral, and universal solution for international data transfers’ … the UK’s association to the EU’s Horizon and Copernicus research programmes was confirmed … and missions for the National Quantum Strategy were published.

The ICO has had a busy few weeks… in his speech to techUK’s Digital Ethics Summit, Information Commissioner John Edwards warned 2024 could be the year the public loses trust in AI (see also the summary press release)… the regulator is clamping down on cookies, issuing enforcement notices to some websites not making it clear that they’re optional… has sought permission to appeal the Clearview AI ruling… and fined the Ministry of Defence for an Afghan evacuation data breach… while in other commissioner news, Tony Eastaugh, previously the Director General for Immigration Enforcement and a Commander in the Metropolitan Police, has been appointed Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner - roles which will be abolished by DPDIB… his predecessor, Fraser Sampson, is joining biometrics company Facewatch.

Elsewhere, the government’s Digital, Data and Technology profession has rebranded as Government Digital and Data (Public Technology has a write-up). That rebrand actually drew my attention to some government digital docs I don’t think I’d spotted before (I know, must do better etc): a guide to building communities of practice and an Ethics, Transparency and Accountability Framework for Automated Decision-Making. CDDO has also published new guidance on ‘Essential Shared Data Assets and Data Ownership in Government’, while on the GDS side of things, ‘Fifteen major departments’ confirm adoption plans for One Login (Public Technology).

And finally… Director of 10DS (Number Ten Data Science), Laura Gilbert, gave a lecture on ‘Changing the status quo – data and radical transformation at the heart of government’ at the LSE last week… and the new chair of the Committee for Standards in Public Life, Doug Chalmers, told PACAC that he was keen to build on the Committee’s previous work on AI and standards in public life.

Parly-vous data?

As if all those Bills weren’t enough… Michelle Donelan and DSIT perm sec Sarah Munby were up in front of the Commons Science, Innovation and Technology committee on Wednesday, on AI governance and the general work of the department. Computer Weekly reported it as ‘No UK AI legislation until timing is right, says Donelan (Viscount Camrose told an FT conference something similar a few weeks ago). Also in the Commons, the government (and the ICO) responded to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s report on connected tech … the Foreign Affairs Committee have a report on access to critical minerals, critical to the government’s vision for science, technology and innovation… and the Defence Select Committee has a new subcommittee on AI in defence.

In the Lords… the Communications and Digital Committee inquiry into Large Language Models heard from government chief scientific adviser, Dame Angela McLean, AI minster Viscount Camrose and DSIT officials in late November (and from various regulators and businesses the week before that - Politico, behind a paywall, noted some confusion as to whether the ‘central risk’ functions promised by the AI White Paper and said to have been established in September are indeed up and running). Camrose suggested work from the Intellectual Property Office on a new AI copyright code might slip into the new year, though the IPO is hopeful of concluding it this year. Careful Industries wrote about their written evidence to the Inquiry, which has been published along with some others. The select committee on AI Weapon Systems, meanwhile, has warned the government to proceed with caution - careful, now.

Lord Tim Clement-Jones offered a regret motion on the Data Protection (Adequacy) (United States of America) Regulations 2023 (particularly the lack of an impact assessment, the lack of public consultation and a lack of sufficient information for scrutiny - anyone sensing a theme across DSIT’s parliamentary activity?). The Lords have also considered questions on EdTech (from Baroness Kidron)… legislation for AI regulation (Lord Browne)… how DWP is using artificial intelligence and what governance process is in place for such use (Baroness Sherlock)… Accessing AI-generated public services (Baroness Jones)… and there’ll be a question from Lord Allan on ‘what measures they have put in place to mitigate the risk of people being coerced into showing their confidential medical records to third parties as records become universally available through the NHS app’ immediately before the DPDIB debate on Tuesday.

And… DSIT oral questions take place in the Commons on Wednesday 10 January.

Labour movement

The rebellion on the Gaza vote led to a mini-reshuffle in the junior shadow ministerial ranks: Alex Davies-Jones left the DSIT team to replace Jess Phillips in the shadow Home Office team, though is apparently keeping hold of the online safety brief. Her replacement is Chris Evans. Not that one. Nor that one.

Technology was one of the UK’s ‘huge assets’ identified by Keir Starmer in a major economic speech at the Resolution Foundation … Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has been out in Singapore, looking at how their health service uses data and tech (Pulse has some non-paywalled highlights)… the New Statesman asked ‘Will Labour grasp the opportunities of new technology?’, looking at Labour Together’s recent polling on public attitudes towards AI… and Labour’s Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands has written ‘AI Ethics in Law Enforcement: Navigating Innovation and Oversight’ for Progressive Britain.

In brief

What we’ve been up to

What everyone else has been up to


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