Digital secretary Dowden outlines UK post-Brexit data approach

by Jeremy

Digital secretary Oliver Dowden has outlined the UK government’s plan approach to data post-Brexit, indicating that it intends to strike new international data partnerships and broaden the remit of the following information commissioner to ensure data is used to achieve social and economic goals.

In an op-ed for the Financial Times, Dowden wrote that data has primarily been viewed through the lens of risk in recent years. Many businesses and organizations are reluctant to use it because they do not understand the data protection rules or are afraid of inadvertently breaking them.

Brexit road fotolia

Claiming this outlook had “hampered innovation” and “prevented scientists from making discoveries”, Dowden wrote that the UK government’s approach is “one that no longer sees data as a threat, but as the great opportunity of our time”.

As part of this new approach, Dowden has indicated that the UK’s next information commissioner will have a much broader remit to help organizations maximize data utility.

“The next information commissioner will not just be asked to focus on privacy, but be empowered to ensure people can use data to achieve economic and social goals,” wrote Dowden.

“The pandemic was full of such examples, like hospital trusts sharing lung scans to improve coronavirus treatment methods. Data has many such wider societal benefits, and as we emerge from the pandemic, the UK has an opportunity to be at the forefront of global, data-driven growth.”

The shift in the role of the information commissioner falls in line with the government’s national data strategy, which aims to foster innovation while also increasing economic growth.

According to the information commissioner job description published 28 February 2021 on the Cabinet Office website: “The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is now one of the most important economic regulators in the UK, responsible for supervising almost every organization in the country, as well as the public sector.”

It added that the information commissioner, who will earn £200,000 per year, is a demanding and high-profile role, and that the candidate “must be willing and able to steer the ICO through a dynamic period of change, refining processes and decision-making” as well as play an active role in sustaining the regulator’s “world-leading reputation”.

The role specification added that the new commissioner is responsible for “supporting innovation and growth when discharging their duties”, which includes giving advice to members of the public about their information rights, taking action to improve information rights practices, and advising businesses on how to comply with data protection laws while minimizing the regulatory burdens on them.

The new commissioner must also possess “commercial and business acumen, including an understanding of how the data protection regulatory environment impacts on business and how to help them”. The current information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, was appointed in July 2016 after serving as an information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia in Canada. While her term was scheduled to end after five years in July 2021, Denham agreed to stay in the role until October while the recruitment process was completed, following a request from Dowden.

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