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UK Government releases Plan for Digital Regulation

The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) published a policy paper (on 6 July 2021) in connection with the UK Government’s Plan for Digital Regulation now that the UK has exited the EU. The paper, Digital Regulation: Driving Growth and Unlocking innovation (the Paper), identifies key policy principles and ambitions that will shape the UK Government’s approach to digital regulation. 

Key points in the Paper include:

  • In the ministerial foreword to the Paper, the UK Secretary of State for DCMS states that the UK Government will be “unashamedly pro-tech” overall and will likely take a “deregulatory approach” to digital regulation. 
  • The Paper identifies three key objectives: 
  • to drive growth by promoting competition and innovation across the digital sector;
  • to ensure growth and innovation does not harm citizens or businesses and keeps the UK safe and secure online; and 
  • to protect fundamental rights and freedoms, and shape a digital economy that promotes a flourishing, democratic society;

and specifies three principles for designing and implementing digital regulation, noting that where necessary to intervene the UK government should:

  • actively promote innovation;
  • achieve forward looking outcomes; and
  • address international opportunities and challenges.
  • The Paper calls out distinctive features of digital technologies and activities that may pose challenges when it comes to addressing consumer and societal risk or may require a distinct regulatory approach, including:
  • the accumulation, processing and portability of personal data;
  • oversight, accountability and verification of digital content;
  • transparency and use of advanced data analytics and algorithms;
  • scale, scope and network effects of digital businesses;
  • the relative ease and anonymity of disruption to digital services;
  • the global nature of data and digital; and
  • the critical role of digital infrastructure and networks.
  • The Paper highlights that cooperation between relevant UK regulators is a priority (including with the UK ICO). It notes the importance of competition in unlocking the potential of the digital economy, flags the establishment of the Digital Markets Unit and Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum, and indicates that a DCMS priority is to enable regulators to “maximise efficiencies” and avoid “unnecessary regulatory burdens on industry”. 
  • The Secretary of State notes that the DCMS will launch a consultation on a new “pro-competition” regime (in accordance with “Mission 2” of the UK National Data Strategy) and shortly publish a plan for a pro-growth data regime. Alongside the appointment of a new Information Commissioner (tasked with “maintaining high standards of data protection while removing unnecessary barriers to data use”, “building trust and confidence, communicating the wider benefits of data sharing for our society - as well as for innovation and growth”), the plan forms part of the DCMS’ approach to developing a data regime that “fully supports a world-leading digital economy and society whilst underpinned by the trustworthy use of data”.
  • The Paper highlights the UK Government’s desire for an international approach, noting tech as the centre of the UK’s US relationship, indicating an intention to negotiate a digital economy agreement with Singapore to stimulate and enhance current digital trade, and to enter into discussions and working groups with the Indian Government discussing digital trade and regulatory practices. 
  • The Paper recognises the relevance and interaction with, amongst others, the Ten Tech Priorities and the Integrated Review, and trails the upcoming Innovation Strategy, AI Strategy, Digital Strategy and National Cyber Strategy. 

See here for the DCMS’ press release, and here for the Paper. The UK National Data Strategy missions are available here. The Integrated Review is available here. The Ten Tech Priorities are available here. The DCMS is accepting public responses and commentary on the Paper until 28 September 2021.