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Queen’s Speech Targets Data Protection, Driverless Cars, And Space Travel

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

Brexit focus, but tech still features in Queen’s speech, including new data protection laws and driverless cars

The Queen has outlined her government’s strategy in the years ahead, amid ongoing speculation as to the stability of Theresa May’s government.

The Queen’s speech focused heavily on Brexit, but it also included a number of tech-related issues including driverless cars, data protection, and even space travel.

The speech is very different from past years, such the 2015 speech for Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, which pledged to give the security services more surveillance powers to tackle the online communications of terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals.

Data privacy

Data Protection

This year however the speech has dropped much of the Conservatives election manifesto, such as the omission of Grammar schools and social welfare reform.

Instead, it was mostly filled with the government’s plans for Brexit, but it is worth highlighting the technology aspects of the government’s agenda going forward.

Perhaps the most noteworthy was the promise of new data protection laws. The proposed Data Protection Bill was part of the Conservative manifesto pledge to give young people the ability to demand social networks remove any personal information shared before they reached 18 years old.

“A new law will ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data, and proposals for a new digital charter will be brought forward to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online,” said the Queen.

Another proposal is to give people the “right to be forgotten” when they no longer want a company to retain data on them.

The government also confirmed that despite the looming Brexit, it will implement the General Data Protection Regulation.

The GDPR of course are the new European data protection rules due to come into force next year. Implementing this law is smart, as it will also the UK to continue to share data with other EU member states and internationally, even after Brexit.

And this GDPR bill will replace the Data Protection Act, which was first introduced way back in 1998.

Driverless Cars

But data protection was not the only tech related subject in the Queen’s speech. It also touched upon driverless cars and even space travel, and the need for the UK to have a space port.

In 2016 the Queen’s speech outlined government’s plans to turn the UK into a world leader for driverless cars.

And this intention was continued with the news that Theresa May intends to deal with the need for car insurance to cover the use of self-driving cars. These measures actually first appeared in the proposed Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill earlier this year, but they will now be included in the new Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill.

Essentially, UK insurers will need to separately cover when the driver is in manual control and when the car is driving itself. Drivers will also be made liable for accidents if they modify the software on their vehicle, or failed to install important updates.

Another aspect of the new Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill is the recognition of the need for more electric charging and hydrogen points.

The bill intends to force motorway services and major petrol stations to build charging spots, alongside more traditional fuel pumps.

Final Frontier

Another notable tech aspect laid out in the Queen’s speech was the government’s ambition to secure growth in the UK’s £13.7 billion space industry.

The space industry it should be noted has been growing at an annual rate of eight percent over the last decade, and the industry already outperforms the UK economy as a whole.

Theresa May intends to put forward new legislation to help the UK become the leading location for European commercial spaceflights. The PM intends to incentivise businesses to invest in UK-based space programs.

The Prime Minister aims to do all this via the Space Industry Bill, which will see the creation of the UK’s first spaceports, from which rockets, spacecraft and satellites can be launched.

In the past, the government had identified a number of locations in the UK as suitable for British spaceports. These were mostly in Scotland, with a smaller number in England and Wales.

However these locations have been wittled down, and it now seems that Newquay in Cornwall is the favoured location.

It is reported that Brexit will not affect the UK’s status as a member of the European Space Agency (Esa), whose projects such as Galileo is largely funded by the European Union.

Expert Take

 “This Queen’s Speech confirms Brexit will be the key priority of the next Parliament,” commented techUK CEO, Julian David. “It will be crucial that the Repeal Bill, alongside legislation on customs, trade and immigration, recognises the importance of the tech sector to our economic future.

“It is right that the government seeks to achieve the broadest possible consensus on Brexit across both Parliament and business,” he added. ”  This will mean focusing on the future needs of our economy and society.”

“The government cannot focus on Brexit alone.  techUK welcomes measures to radically reform technical education and give people the tools they need for the high skilled, high wage jobs of the future,” he said. “Invention is in the UK’s DNA so plans to support the space industry and electric vehicles will keep the UK at the forefront of innovation.”

 “We support the government’s commitment to maintain the UK’s world class protection of people’s personal data,” he concluded.  “This will include implementing the General Data Protection Regulation, the biggest transformation of data protection rules in a generation.  The Government must have a robust plan to support businesses through this process.”

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