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Dowden out, Dorries in: Is UK data protection in safe hands?

It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life... for Dorries

Comment Nadine Dorries is the latest government minister charged with steering the data protection law through the choppy straits between the UK's desire to unleash "data's power across the economy and society for the benefit of British citizens and British businesses", and the boring need to comply with EU data protection law.

A Conservative politician once suspended from the party whip for appearing on a television programme in which she ate ostrich anus may not be the obvious choice for the challenge, but that's where we are today.

Dorries replaces Oliver Dowden as minister in charge of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, after Brit Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ruthless cabinet reshuffle. If taken at his word, Dowden is a man who cares about data. "Data is now one of the most important resources in the world. It fuels the global economy, drives science and innovation, and powers the technology we rely upon to work, shop and connect with friends and family," he oozed in the foreword to the recent consultation on changes to UK data protection law.

Observers might point out that the direction of travel for the UK law was not exactly one that inspired faith in Dowden's claim to also want to maintain "high standards of data protection".

Perhaps swayed by the prevailing political wind, the out-going Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham seemed to be more concerned with cost and "poor user's experience" for businesses, while the incoming commissioner believes the UK can "go its own way" on data protection law.

But at least Dowden, a former PR executive and known shrewd political operator, had his mind on the job.

Where is Nadine Dorries' mind? Join us if you will on a journey through its most salient landmarks.

It's fun to work at the DCMS...

Let's start with I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, the ITV cringe-fest on which she sought fame in 2012. Aside from the aforementioned consumption of bipedal avian offal, the show led her to apologise in the House of Commons for signing a confidentiality agreement that prevented her from disclosing her fee. She also falsely claimed that payment for eight pieces of work in the media did not need to be declared. And then she took a year to disclose her income in the register of members' interests.

But at least that might be said to qualify her in the media aspect of her job title.

What about digital?

Well, if the 2017 password debacle is anything to go by, the omens are not good. In an attempt to defend colleague Damian Green against the conclusion that pornography found on or accessed via his computer must be something to do with him, she tweeted: "My staff log onto my computer on my desk with my login everyday. Including interns on exchange programmes."

Outrage from infosec experts and those with a smattering of common sense ensued, but Dorries was undeterred. "All my staff have my login details. A frequent shout when I manage to sit at my desk myself is, 'What is the password?'" she added by way of explanation.

Any hopes for continuity in ministerial knowledge of data law were dashed this morning when John Whittingdale, minister of state for media and data since 14 February 2020, resigned. Having previously been secretary of state for the department, he said it had "been a privilege…reforming our data laws using our new Brexit freedom."

But it may be the media aspect of her role that was at the foremost of Boris Johnson's mind when he dredged Dorries from the pool of talent. She will be responsible for overseeing the BBC, that famous bête noire of the Tory right, having previously called it "a biased leftwing organisation which is seriously failing in its political representation, from the top down."

As for culture? Perhaps she qualifies for the role as an author of historical novels, one of which nonetheless prompted a Telegraph reviewer to say it was the "worst novel I've read in 10 years."

To be fair, Amazon reviewers, however, gave it four-and-a-half stars out of five. Whether a talent for fiction is a prerequisite for any ambitious politician remains an open question. ®

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