The National Data Strategy Forum: the UK’s route to becoming the number one destination for data?

A new National Data Strategy Forum was published earlier this year following a consultation process held in late 2020. Read our last newsletter here for more information on the National Data Strategy consultation.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has described the new Forum as being the UK’s route to becoming the number one destination for data in the world. The Forum is structured on a framework consisting of 5 separate missions which are considered below.

Mission 1: Unlocking the value of data across the economy.

The first mission aims to “create an environment where data is appropriately usable, accessible and available across the economy – fuelling growth in organisations large and small.”

It is no secret that to date, the world of data has only been wholly and fully accessible to the world’s largest companies. The full value of data and its benefits have remained widely unknown and unavailable to SMEs which in turn has potentially stunted economic growth and innovation (not to mention potentially anti-competitive). This first mission is therefore welcome to many businesses in the UK, particularly in Scotland where SMEs are most prevalent.

Since September 2020, the UK Government has, amongst others, established the non-statutory Digital Markets Unit; agreed a programme of work with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to explore Privacy Enhancing Technologies; and agreed a programme of work with the Open Data Institute.

Following feedback received via the consultation process, the UK Government will now focus efforts on ensuring the National Data Strategy works for everyone in society and will reflect on how data use can support the UK’s ability to build a fairer and greener country.

Mission 2: Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime.

The second mission seeks to build upon the UK’s strengths in technological innovation and data protection by developing a legal regime that considers post-Brexit UK data protection laws, as well as regulation in the wider digital and technology arena. The mission invites continued participation from both businesses and individuals. It also identifies the need for businesses to have access to a “data-literate workforce”. 

In line with consultation feedback, the UK Government will focus this mission on supporting vibrant competition and innovation to drive economic growth; maintaining high data protection standards without creating unnecessary barriers to responsible data use; keeping pace with rapid innovation; helping businesses of all sizes both in the UK an internationally; and ensuring the ICO is equipped to regulate effectively.

The Forum confirms that the UK Government is in the process of recruiting a new Chair and refreshed Board to lead the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

Mission 3: Transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services.

A common theme throughout the Forum is the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it has had upon data sharing in the UK. This mission delves into the lessons the government has learned from the pandemic and the types of opportunities it wants to access moving forward. The Forum states that there “is massive untapped potential in the way the government uses data” and that moving forward, the government shall “implement major and radical changes” in the way it uses data. 

The ambitions set out under this mission have been split into five headings: Quality, Availability and access; Standards and assurance; Capability, leadership and culture; Accountability and productivity; and Ethics and public trust.

The work undertaken in regards to this mission will be led by a Government Chief Data Officer from the centre and will be transformative in nature. The obstacles faced by the Government have been described as “long-term and systemic” and therefore it can be assumed that meaningful progress will be slower than other missions.

Following consultation feedback, the Forum will focus future efforts on increasing transparency in algorithmic-assisted decision making across government; embedding the Data Ethics Framework across government processes and departments; and embedding data ethics as a capability in relevant government professions. 

Mission 4: Ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies.

This mission is key. The security and resilience of a country-wide data infrastructure has been the subject of many concerns shared under the National Data Strategy public consultation.

The Forum defines the infrastructure on which data relies as being “the virtualised or physical data infrastructure, systems and services that store, process and transfer data. This includes data centres, peering and transit infrastructure, and cloud computing that provides virtualised computing resources that are accessed remotely.”

The UK Government has committed to taking greater responsibility in ensuring data is sufficiently protected when in transit, or when stored in external data centres. The Forum also considers data security from an environmental perspective and the impact data storage infrastructure has upon the UK’s net zero 2050 target. The Forum confirms that the UK Government will evaluate inefficiencies in stored and processed data, as well as other carbon-inefficient processes.

Mission 5: Championing the international flow of data.

Arguably the most topical mission in a post-Brexit UK, this mission aims to embrace the UK’s “unique opportunity” after leaving the European Union to “be a force of good in the world”.

The UK Government will use its “international engagement and influence” to build trust in the use of data; facilitate cross-border data flows; drive data standards and interoperability internationally; and drive UK values internationally.

The Forum outlined that the UK Government would continue to work with the EU on the draft UK data adequacy decision following the response received from Member States in May 2021 (this was adopted by the EU on 28th June 2021) . The UK Government will also continue to work with the ICO on international transfers and UK transfer mechanisms (currently the ICO is consulting on its draft international data transfer agreement and guidance that was published on 11th August 2021).

Next steps

Alongside publishing the Forum, the Government has also committed to “lead by example” in their approach to data and will seek to “maintain momentum across wider priority areas”. The ambitions set out in this Forum will be achieved through various means, the most immediate of which will include:

  • The appointment of a new Information Commissioner (John Edwards, the current New Zealand Privacy Commissioner), to replace the outgoing Elizabeth Denham.
  • A new Board and Chair for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.
  • The announcement of the priority countries for UK data adequacy agreements.
The Data Sharing Code of Practice

The ICO’s Data Sharing Code of Practice was laid before Parliament on 18 May 2021 and will come into force after 40 sitting days. A copy of the Code can be found here.

The Code is a practical guide for organisations about how to share personal data in compliance with data protection law. It aims to give businesses and individuals in the UK confidence to share data fairly and proportionately.

The legal landscape of data protection in the UK is expanding and developing at an incredibly fast pace. The amount of time and effort displayed by UK legislators in recent months is a testament to the crucial importance of data in today’s world and the future.

The UK Government has made clear its desire to continue the conversation about how the country uses and approaches data. The National Data Strategy Forum is just the beginning.

How can we help?

If you require any assistance in keeping up with the new data protection regulations, our team is always happy to help. Please contact our specialist Data Protection & Cyber Security team.

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