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Open Rights Group: Brexit Puts UK Citizen Digital Rights At Risk

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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UK exit from European Union could place British citizen’s digital rights in jeopardy, says Open Right Group

The digital rights of British citizens needs to be maintained in the aftermath of the EU referendum, says Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

“The UK’s vote to leave the EU means that we no longer have a clear idea what levels and kinds of protection of digital rights we will have in the future,”  he said. “Nearly all the relevant law is European. A lot depends on the kind of model of leaving the EU that the UK adopts.”

Killock said that in the short term, nothing should change too much as the UK still has to abide by the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), until the country signs Article 50.

Option 1: Single Market Access

 

jimkillockBut he stressed it would be “unwise for the UK to pick fights and fail to abide by EU law, as this would risk a swift ejection, and certainly weaken our negotiating position.”

“Data Protection laws, e-privacy, net neutrality and other telecoms regulations, copyright enforcement and copyright laws are all currently written in the EU,” he continued. “Data retention and Passenger Name record retention are also decided upon at EU level.”

Killock said that going forward, the UK has to ensure that it matches these laws. And it really depends on what model the UK opts to choose going forward.

If the UK for example wanted access to the single market (like Norway etc), the so called European Economic Area (EEA) membership, “things will be difficult for UK digital rights advocates, and digital industries, in that we will have less opportunity to shape legislation.”

“If we are in the EEA, then the CJEU is no longer involved in UK decision making regarding EU law,” he added “The EEA has its own court for these purposes. It does not consider human rights in its decisions however.”

But Killock pointed out that while the EEA option would satisfy the referendum criteria, it would be “both economically rational and politically very difficult.”

This is because the EU has signalled that the free movement of labour would likely to be a requirement for EEA, and the EU would still require payments from the UK. But the UK  would regain control of fish and agriculture policy.

Option 2: Full Brexit/Divorce

The alternative is that the UK presses ahead with a full brexit and Britain would exist outside the Single Market, and forge its own trade deals with the rest of the world.

In that case, the ‘full Brexit’ would place all existing laws into flux, said Killock.

“At this point, the laws might be simply incorporated into UK law, or else, they would be reviewed and potentially scrapped,” he explained. “For UK digital rights, this would be the most concerning. The pressure to deregulate in order to compensate for the loss of single market access would be very high. The changes could be made very swiftly, with little democratic oversight.

“We would need to be confident that the UK develops much stronger constitutional protections for human rights to be fully supportive of a solution along these lines. We would need to be convinced that Parliament would be in control of the changes and would be given sufficient time to consider the changes it would be making.”

“The digital environment is already international.There are good reasons for laws to become more consistent, rather than less. Whatever solution is adopted, this pressure will exist.”

Late last week, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) warned that future data protection regulations would have to be as strong as those afforded by the EU if the UK wants to continue trading with the bloc once it leaves.

The ICO made the statement after concern following the Brexit vote.

The United States and the EU recently agreed to strengthen the Privacy Shield agreement, but with the UK opting to leave the European Union, direction was needed for firms operating in this country.

The ICO said that for now, the Data Protection Act remained the law of the land irrespective of the referendum result.

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