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Concerns raised about privacy, GDPR as Lords peer over Data Protection Bill

'Incredibly hard to read and even harder to understand'...

Fears over privacy and the application of GDPR, concern over lax rules for spies, and the omission of regulation on fake news, were just some of the issues raised at the second reading of the UK Data Protection House Bill in the House of Lords.

The bill is intended to overhaul data protection laws in Blighty for the digital age.

The draft law will create two new criminal offences: it will make re-identification of de-identified personal data unlawful; and creates a new offence of altering or destroying personal data to prevent individuals accessing it.

Introducing the bill, Lord Ashton of Hyde, claimed the bill “will empower people to take control of their data, support UK businesses and organisations through the change, ensure that the UK is prepared for the future after we have left the EU."

He claimed part 4 “protects personal data processed by our intelligence agencies. We live in a time of heightened and unprecedented terrorist threat… The intelligence services already comply with robust data-handling obligations and, under the new Investigatory Powers Act, are subject to careful oversight.”

However, Lord McNally warned “the elephant in the room always in discussing a Bill such as this is how we get the balance right between protecting the freedoms and civil liberties that underpin our functioning liberal democracy while protecting that democracy from the various threats to our safety and well-being.”

Civil liberties campaigner Privacy International was quick to raise the issue in its response to the bill, which it described as “unnecessarily complex”.

The body has called for the rules for cross-border data transfers by intelligence agencies to be brought in line with those set out for law enforcement purposes.

The current draft bill, it said, “provides for almost unfettered powers for cross-border transfers of personal data by intelligence agencies without appropriate levels of protection”. It said the conditions set out in the bill are “significantly broad”, and so the clause “failed to provide any meaningful safeguards to the sharing of personal data.”

Another major area of concern was, of course, GDPR.

Baroness Ludford said that “GDPR is the elephant in the room”. Which makes at least two.

She also showed concern that the standards for data breach reporting by spooks appeared to be looser even than those for general processing.

She added: “There are also a number of aspects in the Bill in which the bespoke standards applied to intelligence agencies are less protective than for general processing, such as data breach reporting and redress for infringement of rights. We will need to give serious thought to the wisdom of these, looking to the future.”

Lord Jay of Ewelme, said he was concerned over the decisions on the adequacy of the protection of personal data in third countries. The chances of having an adequacy decision in place by March 2019 are small, he said. “So to avoid a cliff edge, we will need transitional arrangements. In summary, it seems likely that EU and UK data protection practices will need to remain alive long after we leave the EU.”

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara called for greater a “far more ambitious set of regulatory structures for data capitalism.”

He said: “The big tech companies have for far too long got away with the conceit that they are simply neutral platforms. They are not; they are active media and information companies, and their stock market valuations are based on the data flows they generate and how they can be monetised. With that role surely should come broader societal responsibilities, but the Bill does not go into this area at all.”

He added there was also nothing in the bill about regulating fake news.

Meanwhile, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, admitted she found the Bill “incredibly hard to read and even harder to understand.”

She said: “I fear that we will not do enough to stop the notion, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we are sleepwalking into a dystopian future if we do not work hard to simplify the Bill and make it accessible to more people, the people to whom I feel sure the government must want to give power in this updated legislation.”

So everyone's clear, then. It remains confusing as hell. ®

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