A UK government taskforce chaired by the architect of the disastrous £700m "one dole-to-rule-them-all" Universal Credit IT project, Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, has published a wish list of regulatory proposals it wants to see adopted by a post-Brexit administration.
Included are wholesale reforms of data laws, the development of a "smart" energy grid, new rules governing drones and e-scooters, digital health and the partial return of imperial measures.
Also sitting on the three-person taskforce were Theresa Villiers MP and George Freeman MP.
Heralding the 130-page report by the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) [PDF], the report's authors announced that the “pace of global technological innovation is creating huge new opportunities and challenges for regulation: from AI to space, genetics to autonomous vehicles.”
- Of all the analytics firms in the world, why is Palantir getting its claws into UK health data?
- 'Biggest data grab' in NHS history stuffs GP records in a central store for 'research' – and the time to opt out is now
- Anyone for Palantir? UK.gov names gaggle of vendors to fight for contracts in £1.2bn back office application framework
- Under threat of judicial review, UK.gov agrees to consultation before extending Palantir's NHS role beyond pandemic
- Palantir and UK policy: Public health, public IT, and – say it with me – open public contracts
- How do you solve 'disruption' at the UK border after Brexit? Let's call Peter Thiel! AI biz Palantir – you're hired
The paper talked about stripping out "unnecessary red tape", introducing rules that are less "onerous" for people and organisations, and, instead, creating a new regulatory environment designed to promote "growth and innovation" which it claimed had been "stifled" by GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation).
Also in the document was a suggestion about the employment of "digital sandboxes" as a testbed for new ideas. This cropped up a number of times in areas such as finance, health and energy, among others. The treatise also included some blue-sky thinking about space and satellites as well as a fresh approach to the development and use of legal-to-use cannabinoids in the treatment of some health conditions, although it did stop short of recommending decriminalisation for recreational use.
Before getting too carried away, though, the report is just that - a report – a collection of ideas and aspirations pulled together by a Brexit-leaning group of MPs.
Regardless of the pros and cons of the proposals, here are just a couple of areas that caught our eye…
'Free the data' from the shackles of General Data Protection Regulation
The general gist of the paper is that while data privacy is a great idea, in practice, it's too hard for people to give consent or manage their own data. The trio argued the GDPR regs “overwhelm people with consent requests and complexity they cannot understand, while unnecessarily restricting the use of data for worthwhile purposes."
We propose reform to give stronger rights and powers to consumers and citizens, place proper responsibility on companies using data, and free up data for innovation and in the public interest. GDPR is already out of date and needs to be revised for AI and growth sectors if we want to enable innovation in the UK.
As a result, the report argues that GDPR should be replaced with a new UK framework for data protection noting that “GDPR is prescriptive, and inflexible and particularly onerous for smaller companies and charities to operate.”
The report added: “GDPR aims to give people control over their personal data but rarely does so. In many cases, it results in, quite literally, a tick-box exercise.
“The overemphasis on consent has led to people being bombarded with complex consent requests.
“An illustration of this is the cookie consent banner that appears every time you visit a website. Both behavioural science and common sense tell you that putting a ‘tick to accept’ box in front of someone at the point they want to access a website or service does not generate genuine informed consent, it just means people are likely to tick ‘accept’ without thinking.”
Instead, the authors suggest replacing GDPR legislation with - you guessed it - another piece of legislation such as one based on third party "Data Trusts" or "Data Fiduciaries."
It's all very consistent with current moves by the government over citizen data. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said just last week (without evidence) that "the vast majority of people are strongly onside" a plan to scoop up around 55 million people's medical records in England and share it with academia and private-sector companies with little regard for data protection law. The public and medical bodies have protested this to the point that the data grab date has been pushed back.
You can follow The Reg's GP data scandal reportage here.
The UK implemented GDPR, which is aimed at harmonising data protection rules and protections across the EU single market, through the 2018 Data Protection Act. After Brexit, DPA 2018 is now read with UK GDPR, which is clause for clause almost exactly the same document as EU GDPR, in order to preserve the flow of data with EU trading partners. It's worth noting that the 130-page document doesn't mention the phrase "data adequacy" (necessary to keep the data flowing between the UK and EU) even once.
Let's hook everything up to the Internet of Things. That always works well
When it comes to energy, it seems being "smart" is key. The report calls for the creation of a "smart" energy grid, interoperable data standards, reforms to the energy retail market, regulation, licensing, and a new regulatory framework for smart appliances. For energy boffins, there are a few lines about solar panels, heat pumps and electric vehicles. All good stuff.
But, it’s also a cracking part of the report to take a break and play "buzzword bingo." So added to the "heat pumps", "solar panels" and "electric vehicles" we have: "net zero", "interoperability", "data-sharing", "smart appliances", "modulating electricity consumption", "drive decarbonisation", "energy smart", "grid security", "cyber security", "transformational new technologies on a scale not seen since the creation of the internal combustion engine" – hats off if you got that one - "hydrogen", “hydrogen stability”, “hydrogen scientists” and “hydrogen blending”.
As frivolous as it sounds, that’s not a million miles from a broad summary of the ideas put forward.
And there's more. If you’re interested in self-driving vehicles, emerging micromobility technologies, drones, UAVs; AI, telehealth, cannabinoids for medical use; technology in agriculture and finance; the next steps in the development of the space industry; nutraceuticals (hi-tech health foods and supplements), and e-labelling which is used in countries including the USA, Australia, Singapore and Japan, then you’re in for a treat. Or not, as the case may be.
Tucked away near the end are proposals to make changes to the 1985 Weight and Measures Act which formalised the supremacy of metric over imperial measurements. You can read the full report here [PDF].
As a footnote, for anyone considering the newly advertised £120,000-a-year job as Director of the Government’s Brexit Opportunities Unit, it’s definitely worth adding this to your pre-interview reading list. ®