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Data Protection and Digital Information Bill falls in Parliament ‘wash up’

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The Data Protection and Digital Information (DPDI) Bill is among those that has been dropped due to lack of parliamentary time in the approach to the general election.

It has been reported in media outlets and by organisations including techUK and the Ada Lovelace Institute that the bill, despite being in its late stages of passage, was not completed in the ‘wash up’ before Parliament was dissolved for the surprise general election scheduled for 4 July.

The bill was intended to provide regulations relevant to access to and processing of information about individuals, including in areas such as data sharing for law enforcement, information standards for health and social care and oversight of biometric data.

It laid the ground for significant changes and sparked controversy in some areas, notably in giving the Department for Work and Pensions more powers to check personal financial data to reduce benefit fraud, and giving counter-terrorism police rights to hold on to the biometric data of individuals regarded as a potential threat.

The bill also made provision for less controversial but also significant changes for the public sector, such as simplifying the processes for sharing data through the National Underground Asset Register.

Cause for disappointment

IT industry association techUK pointed to the potential of the bill to support the development of AI technologies and create a new framework for smart data and digital identities.

It commented: “The fall of the DPDI Bill is therefore disappointing, particularly given there was broad support in Parliament for the wider reforms it introduced. 

“The UK tech industry will be frustrated at the failure of the bill to pass, particularly given the extensive consultation on the bill that had taken place. Following the election, it will now be the responsibility of the next Government to resume these reforms.  

“Whichever political party wins the election should not make this a missed opportunity. Instead, they should build on the good progress made in this bill by seeking to create a pro-innovation and high standard data protection regime for the UK.  

“This should also include enabling smart data and digital ID schemes, allowing us all to better manage our data and interact with public services.”

techUK added that it is preparing a position paper setting out its views on which clauses of the bill should be revived after the election, along with some further policy proposals.

Cause of relief

By contrast, the Ada Lovelace Institute, which specialises in research on data and AI, expressed some relief over the fall of the bill, saying it did not go far enough in protecting individuals.

Its associate director Michael Birtwistle said: “The bill was an opportunity to better safeguard people from harmful impacts of data use and ensure the wider distribution of benefits. But while the bill contained some welcome provisions – around smart data, for example – it neglected the chance to build a positive vision.

“Instead, what we got was a set of piecemeal changes that, taken together, would have undermined our existing regulatory regime. As drafted, the bill would have compromised vital protections for people affected by harmful or exploitative uses of data, including some types of AI.

“The bill contained other concerning provisions. It would have enabled widespread data use for ‘democratic engagement’, risking further Cambridge Analytica style scandals. It would have circumscribed the independence of the Information Commissioner’s Office and abolished the biometrics commissioner.

“An urgent priority for the next Parliament will be to bring forward comprehensive legislation that gives people greater control over how data and AI affect their lives. We look forward to working with the next Government, and with MPs and peers from all parties, to deliver this.”

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