Digital Economy Bill Lacks Clarity on Data Sharing

According to experts the digital economy bill must firm up its definitions on data sharing and improve transparency to avoid losing public trust.

The aim of the bill is to make the UK a “place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government” as announced by the Queen in May 2016.

One of the bill’s main commitments is around sharing of publicly held data sets “to improve service delivery while maintaining safeguards on privacy” as well as giving the UK Statistics Authority “easier secure access to data to produce more timely and accurate statistics”.

The changes that will be introduced cover a number of aspects of data management, including plans to allow public authorities to share personal data with other public authorities in carefully defined contexts to improve individual welfare.

Co-chair of the Cabinet Office’s Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group, Jerry Fishenden, told the committee that the bill failed to include a definition of what data sharing means.

He said: “I find it surprising the bill doesn’t have definition of what data sharing is, both practically and legally.“I’d like to see some precision around what’s meant by data sharing. The lack of detail is concerning.”

In written evidence provided to the committee, Fishenden said the bill seems “to imply an approach to ‘data sharing’ modelled on the era of filing cabinets and photocopiers when the only way to make data available to others was to send them a duplicate physical copy.

“Modern technology has rendered the need for such literal 'data sharing' obsolete: data can now be used without copying it to others and without compromising security and privacy.”

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