The return of the Data Protection And Digital Information bill

Last Wednesday (8 March) the reworked ‘Data Protection and Digital Information Bill’ was reintroduced to parliament for its second reading, following a pause after being withdrawn from parliament.

The Bill is now sponsored by the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). This new department has a mission to ensure the UK is the most innovative economy in the world, and that the UK cements itself as a Science and Technology Superpower.

The Bill itself puts data at the heart of economic growth, and has three pillars which are summarised below.

Data protection
The Bill is intended to reduce compliance costs for business whilst providing protections for consumers’ privacy and data security. The pause gave space for concerns surrounding 'Data Adequacy’ to be comprehensively addressed. The DSIT has clarified that the Bill will:

  • introduce a clear, business-friendly framework that incorporates the key elements and objectives of GDPR but provides more flexibility about how to comply.
  • provide organisations with greater confidence about when they can process personal data without consent (and therefore when they can’t).
  • clarify when safeguards apply to automated decision-making through AI technologies.
  • strengthen the powers of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the independent regulator.

The new regime should provide UK firms operating in the EU – and the wider international community – with confidence in the robustness of the UK’s data protection standards, save compliance costs and provide a welcome boost to international trade.

Digital Identity
The new law paves the way for a cross-sector re-usable Digital Identity framework, providing; equivalence between digital and paper forms of identity, access to government data attributes for certified identity providers, and the certification regime itself.

Once a citizen has created a re-usable digital identity, they will – once in wider acceptance – be able to re-use it to assert their identity or something about themselves: For example, their age or address, and give individuals more control over the data points they share, rather than sharing a whole document that doesn’t allow an adjustable level of control.

Smart Data

The bill creates powers for the secretary of state and HM Treasury to introduce smart data schemes in consumer markets, for example in energy, utilities and telecommunications. Consumers will be able to provide access to their accounts to authorised third parties and benefit from the products and services – and critically, cheaper deals.

Open banking is the best current example of open data, and the Bill – if it becomes law – gives the government powers to create a much wider open data economy. These powers go beyond that of what is currently being explored in Europe.  The European Banking Federation (EBF) recently acknowledged that PSD2 does not serve as a model for data sharing and is now looking at an incentive-based voluntary Framework. Meanwhile, Australia has also recently consulted on how to extend its ‘Consumer Data Right’ to nonbank lending.

However, it is not yet clear how the new powers will be used. For example, in which markets will Smart Data regimes be applied? And what opportunities could an open data economy create for financial services companies? Some commentators envisage customers opening access to their data and providers applying AI to it, with this leading to the development of automated bespoke products and services.

The Bill’s provisions are an important milestone in the development of the digital economy. Expanding Open Data to other sectors could build a bridge between sectors through Digital Identity and therefore new opportunities for the UK financial services sector.

Imagine a world where consumers were able to share their utilities data, for example. This could create opportunities for new concierge products with a level of sophistication far beyond that of the current tools that merely look at standing charges and unit pricing. If these tools could link to your Smart Meter, the consumer could be empowered to look at their energy usage and balances alongside other products such as their credit cards and mortgage. Facilitating this more holistic view of an individual’s personal finances could be a real opportunity for our sector to provide new products and services.

In essence, this Bill has the potential to unlock opportunities for our sector by building a new digitally connected economy.