Tech firms said they welcome the government’s latest data protection plans, which could see an ongoing EU-level role for Britain’s information commissioner
UK technology ndmpanies have welcomed a commitment by the government to seek a broader role for Britain in the ongoing development of European data protection policy after exit from the European Union, as laid out in a speech by prime minister Theresa May.
On Friday May said the government would seek a new data protection agreement with the EU in order to provide ongoing “stability and confidence”.
The government has previously said it would align UK data protection law with EU rules such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and would aim to obtain a European Commission adequacy decision on the UK’s data protection standards.
May has now indicated the government will look to go further than that.
EU-level role for the ICO
“We will be seeking more than just an adequacy arrangement and want to see an appropriate ongoing role for the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office,” she said. “This will ensure UK businesses are effectively represented under the EU’s new ‘one stop shop’ mechanism for resolving data protection disputes.”
She said the government would seek an agreement that would help the UK continue to develop its trade links with the EU, adding that the “free flow of data” is “critical for both sides”.
“We want to secure an agreement with the EU that provides the stability and confidence for EU and UK business and individuals to achieve our aims in maintaining and developing the UK’s strong trading and economic links with the EU,” May said.
She also acknowledged that Brexit would mean new trade barriers between Britain and the EU, and that the UK would leave the EU’s digital single market.
“The UK will not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which will continue to develop after our withdrawal from the EU,” she said. “This is a fast evolving, innovative sector, in which the UK is a world leader. So it will be particularly important to have domestic flexibility, to ensure the regulatory environment can always respond nimbly and ambitiously to new developments.”
May highlighted the role of technology in reducing the need for border checks to a minimum, saying the government would seek to help traders by “streamlining processes” and “drawing on the most advanced IT solutions so that vehicles do not need to stop at the border”.
Julian David, the chief executive of British IT industry trade body techUK, said the group welcomed May’s approach to allowing the ICO to “continue to play a role at an EU level”.
David said commitments on alignment and participation in regulatory processes in areas such as chemicals and broadcasting were important for the country’s IT industry.
“These are critically important to the tech sector and the complex supply chains our industry supports,” he said.
He said more clarity was still needed in some areas, including on the kinds of technologies the government intends for the border, but called the speech “pragmatic”.
EU remains sceptical
But EU officials, while appreciative of May’s pragmatic tone, have taken a more sceptical view of her ideas on reducing trade barriers.
The Guardian quoted one unnamed diplomat as saying there was nothing to suggest technology could be used to avoid vehicle stops at the land border in Ireland.
“The hi-tech arrangement is sci-fi,” he said. “No-one has seen it yet on Planet Earth.”
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has previously warned that government departments will not have the IT systems in place to deal with radically changed post-Brexit border controls by March 2019, creating a potentially “risky” situation when the shift takes place.
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