Response to data law “reform” plans

Big Brother Watch Team / June 18, 2022

We were concerned in September 2021 when the Government published the consultation ‘Data: a new direction’ signalling an intention to rip up the UK’s data protection laws. We submitted a short response making our opposition to the plans clear, emphasising the importance of protecting the Article 22 right not to be subjected to purely automated decisions, in particular.

In June 2022, the Government published a response to the consultation.

Data “reform” or privacy sabotage?

Across civil society, we have serious concerns that the government is intent on ripping up hard fought-for data rights that give the British public essential privacy protections against companies, snoopers and the state.

It is ludicrous to water-down the rights people have over their personal information just as we are on the precipice of the greatest technological revolution in history, where algorithmic decisions, biometric surveillance, and corporate data grabs are commonplace.

This is a perilous policy direction which threatens data adequacy, international privacy standards and rights protections for everyone in the UK.

The government should use our existing data protection framework as a foundation to build up from in order to meet the growing threats of ever-more intrusive surveillance, machine decision-making, and data theft.

But to tear down our data protection laws would be an act of sabotage that would make the UK not more but less equipped for our technological future.

Cookie banners

The Government has been determined to shake up data laws to rid websites of cookie banners.

Cookie banners are a hassle but the Government’s proposal to simply scrap them and open the floodgates to data harvesters spying on us without consent makes the situation much worse. Privacy options will instead be tucked away in websites’ settings where they are far less accessible.

It’s a blow for privacy online and means the British public will likely be subjected to more granular surveillance, unwanted micro-targeting and commercial manipulation online. It seems to serve the interests of data brokers rather than the general public.

Next steps

We await publication of the Data Reform Bill, anticipated to be published very soon, and will analyse the proposals closely. From what we have seen so far, it looks as though the Government wants to rip up privacy protections, package it as a Brexit dividend, and make the UK one of the biggest data harvesters in the world.

As I wrote in the Telegraph, “European data laws are not perfect, but they are a deeply thought-through set of protections for citizens in a Wild West of data theft and online snooping.” The existing data protection framework is a foundation to build on. We have nothing to gain by demolishing it, as seems to be the Government’s intention – but an awful lot to lose.

Silkie Carlo