The UK government published its draft National Data Strategy in 2020 that sets out how it intends to responsibly unlock the full potential and value of data for the benefit of the UK. This is not just limited to personal data – it defines data as information about people, things and systems.
It is clear from the lengthy Strategy that the government is keen to define its position as business minded and internationally focused in relation to data in a post-Brexit world. It acknowledges that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the untapped resource of data that can be used to help individuals, businesses and the public sector.
It should also be pointed out that the Strategy is clear that the price for harnessing this data must not be the cost of the privacy rights of the individual, and that a balance must be struck.
The Strategy is set out as a framework and calls for consultation across industries, asking questions and considering case studies. The consultation period ended in December 2020 and we await the outcome.
The government has based its Strategy on four pillars: data foundations, skills, availability and responsibility.
The government recognises that in the past there has not been a particularly joined up approach in the UK in relation to standardised formats of data, particularly in the public sector (we only have to look at the NHS for an example of the difficulties that this can cause). Going forward, the focus will be on ensuring that data is "fit for purpose", making it more useable and improving its quality.
There were 100,000 unfilled data professional jobs in the UK in 2020. The aim is to plug this gap through education and ensure that the UK workforce has the requisite skills to harness the value of data.
The government recognises that for the Strategy to work, data needs to be easily accessible, transferable and capable of re-use. This requires a more organised flow of data between those that need to access it.
The final element of the Strategy focuses on ensuring that the use of data remains lawful, secure, fair, ethical, sustainable and accountable. It also mentions that it should support innovation and research, ensuring that the benefits of effective data use and access are spread across sectors.
From the pillars of the Strategy flow five key areas of action identified by the government. These actions are defined by missions:
This mission focuses on ensuring that data is easily accessible across organisations big and small, public and private, to push economic growth.
The government says it aims to ensure that the data regime is not "too burdensome for the average company", while it gives a nod to the data protection laws by stating that where personal data is involved there must be a balancing act of the public benefit and individual privacy rights.
The government recognises that there needs to be a transformation of its own approach to the use of data if its full potential is to be unlocked.
This mission speaks to the importance of a secure infrastructure on which to build the use of data, which can flex with the forecasted growth.
The government is clear in the Strategy that it wants to remove "unjustified" barriers to transfers of data. This is a very interesting element. It highlights that the UK is seeking to define its new role globally in relation to data following its recent departure from the EU. Could we see a departure from the EU's conservative approach to data transfers (as demonstrated in the recent Schrems II decision).
The Strategy identifies five core opportunities relating to data that the UK can seize on if it builds on the pillars and follows the actions:
These defined opportunities in data bring together all the threads of the Strategy and demonstrate the government's optimistic outlook if it can successfully implement the Strategy across the UK's sectors.
The focus of this ambitious National Data Strategy is clearly to make better, more effective use of the data in the UK, while respecting individuals' privacy rights and the existing data protection laws.
The UK government hopes that this will bring significant economic growth in the UK and stronger partnerships with the rest of the world via the removal of unnecessary barriers to transfers of data as the UK looks to define its global position as a pragmatic power post Brexit.
The government recognises that it cannot do this alone, and there is a call to arms across industries to consult and collaborate to unlock the power of data.
We await the publication of the results of the consultation. Notable published responses so far have come from the Information Commissioner, who has unsurprisingly focused on the importance of data protection in the Strategy, and the Alan Turing Institute, which has called for more clarity on how specific points of the Strategy will be implemented.
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