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UK – DCMS publishes an updated Digital Strategy

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Finlayson-Brown Jane
Jane Finlayson-Brown

Partner

London

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Emma Keeling - Senior PSL
Emma Keeling

Senior PSL

London

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21 June 2022

On 13 June 2022, the UK’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published its 2022 Digital Strategy (the Strategy).

An update to the 2017 Digital Strategy, this latest iteration trumpets the UK’s global position in the digital sphere, its current growth and economic success. With a view ‘to go further and to go faster, the strategy identifies six areas of focus. These areas highlight and draw together a number of existing initiatives, proposals, strategies and developments that the Government considers relevant to its goal of strengthening the UK’s position as a Global Science and Tech Superpower. By way of example:

  • Ideas and IP: Recognising that ideas and intellectual property (IP) are prerequisites for successful technology businesses, the Government looks to build on its Innovation Strategy with the UK Research and Innovation continuing to play a role in driving investment in R&D and academia. Business innovation is to be encouraged and, amongst other things, the Government looks to R&D targeted tax relief and support of fields such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing through access to the national AI Research and Innovation Programme.

  • Digital skills and talent: When it comes to skills and talent, the Government is mindful of a large skills gap which is likely to widen without action. Support through schools programmes, career awareness, high education and scholarships (such as those related to AI), lifelong upskilling, collaboration with the private sector and immigration policies are all designed to ‘unlock the full economic potential of businesses’.

  • Financing digital growth: Whilst acknowledging the significant levels of private capital invested in the UK tech sector in 2021 alone (stated as £27.4bn), amongst other things, the Government is keen to see increased investment from institutional investors, particularly pension funds, encourage IPOs on the London market and plans to continue investing in accelerating tech start-ups and maintain tax incentives.

  • The whole UK: spreading prosperity and levelling up: The Government wants digital connectivity and a vibrant digital economy to extend to all regions and for public services to better use and share data as part of ongoing digital transformation- a cross-government digital and data strategy is intended to support this aim. The Digital Data and Technology playbook will support innovative public procurement. The Strategy also calls out a number of initiatives intended to make use of digital expertise in supporting net zero carbon emission goals.

  • Enhancing the UK’s place in the world: Post-Brexit the Government is keen to ensure the UK remains engaged and collaborates with international organisations such as the Global Partnership on AI. The Strategy also identifies actions such as the finalisation of the upcoming semiconductor strategy as ‘helping to cement the UK’s global position’.

  • Digital foundations: Four pillars support digital foundations. Robust digital infrastructure (flagging the UK’s approach to gigabit broadband rollout and 5G wireless coverage and promising a Wireless Infrastructure Strategy), unlocking the power of data, a light-touch pro-innovation regulatory framework, and a secure digital environment. 

‘Unlocking the power of data’ is a phrase familiar from the National Data Strategy and the Digital Strategy reiterates the plan to bring forward new UK data protection legislation outlined in the Queen’s speech, taking a flexible outcomes based approach as previously described in the Data: A New Direction consultation. This pillar also calls out existing, more specific, work such as that regarding development of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) and data standards, a call for views on Data Storage and Processing Infrastructure, Security and Resilience (referenced in last week’s Update), the facilitation of free flow of data (and resisting unreasonable data localisation) through international trade agreements (addressed further in the context of international cooperation), and the launch of a beta version of the secure digital identities trust framework (associated legislation to follow) allowing public bodies to share data with organisations to validate identity.

The Strategy reiterates the desire for a pro-innovation, agile and streamlined regulatory regime to stimulate innovation, as previously put forward in the Plan for Digital Regulation in 2021 and as further demonstrated in the Government’s response to the pro-competition regime consultation. The Government also invites views on its framework for monitoring digital regulation (considering indicators and addressing evidence gaps) and champions the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum in its work to coordinate regulatory approach (with statutory cooperation measures an option under the Data: A New Direction consultation). For those with an eye to AI, we are promised a white paper by the end of the year which looks to ‘avoid the heavy handed approach’ of the EU.

The Government recognises the need for regulation to keep pace with technology and hence the Strategy highlighting, amongst others, the progression of the Online Safety Bill and recent consultation on the regulatory framework for paid for online advertising as well as providing a reminder of the Counter Disinformation Unit within the DCMS. 
The Government identifies the UK tech sector as a valuable asset it is keen to protect, looking to the likes of dual use export controls, the Telecommunications (Security) Act, the National Security and Investment Act (pursuant to which the Government states it rarely exercises its powers), the National Cyber Strategy and the conclusion of the consultation regarding legislative changes to improve the UK’s cyber resilience, to support those aims. Security of connected devices and apps is addressed as the Strategy references call for views on app security and privacy interventions, papers on smart cities amongst others.

The Digital Strategy, including a useful annex of key actions, is available here.