Stephanie Peacock MP


Stephanie Peacock MP

Job Title

Shadow Minister for Media, Data & Digital Infrastructure

Article Published on

June '23

Parliamentary Tech Champion

The Data Bill: a missed opportunity that fails to seize the moment

We are in the midst of a tech revolution, and right at the centre of this is data: an asset many view as the most prized and fundamental to the digital age.

From social media sites to supermarket loyalty cards– the rate at which our data is being collected, processed, and shared has grown at bewildering speeds.

Growing too, are the applications of data use, with the rise of AI powerhouses like Chat GPT taking the world by storm, having not even launched when the Data Bill was published.

This new wealth of data, and its various applications, holds immense potential. Harnessing data has allowed innovations in travel, making it more seamless for passengers and in fintech, opening new markets for businesses and banking.

Regulatory framework

With the right regulatory framework, not only could the use of data boost further innovation - allowing a new generation of small businesses to compete with big-tech and catalysing growth – but it could also transform the lives of ordinary people, and vastly improve the delivery of public services as Labour has pledged in our mission to use data and AI in health to transform the patient experience.

Yet instead of leading the charge on new uses for data, the government is playing catch up. Making the wrong choice about whether data is harnessed for public good or further entrenches power and wealth in the global tech companies who already hold it.

On GDPR, the changes they are making hinder not help growth and opportunity. The government’s moves away from the established framework risks data adequacy with the EU, which would cost business dear.

Data and automation

The Bill’s changes around automated decision making are a wrong step too. Data and automation is having an impact on our daily lives. The government’s laissez faire approach means that employers can impose new technologies without sufficient transparency and accountability.

Whether it be assessing productivity levels, deciding on annual leave allocations, or even being selected for an interview – AI now has the potential to automate life altering decisions about our employment. At its most serious, this can lead to disciplinary action, or even dismissal.

This is exactly what happened to three Uber drivers in the UK, who recently won a court case having been ‘robo-fired’ on the basis of an automated decision making system that accused them of fraudulent activity.

In this context, transparency and accountability on how workers data is used is vital.

The Bill threatens to undermine our rights

However, instead of boosting protections for people, and increasing their understanding, the Government’s DPDI Bill actually threatens to undermine our rights as data subjects – the exact same rights that helped those Uber drivers win their case.

The Bill opens the door for people to be subject to further kinds of automated decisions, it creates a new threshold for requesting a simple statement from organisations on how your data is being used, and it gets rid of Data Protection Impact Assessments for the kinds of processing at high risk of compromising people’s rights.

At the very time we should be bolstering protections for when technology has discriminatory outcomes, the Government have chosen to water down what is already in place. Despite businesses themselves expressing reservations about the changes.

Having already made significant adjustments to comply with UK GDPR, many businesses feel the Bill is simply creating further uncertainty for organisations of all sizes.

EU adequacy

Further, businesses are unanimously calling for reassurance that EU adequacy will not be threatened by this Bill. Losing this agreement, which allows for the free flow of data across UK/EU borders, will – by the Governments own estimations – cost up to £460 million as a one-off and £410 million every year afterwards.

Ministers must avoid this disaster for firms already hit by the Conservative cost of living crisis. Labour will ensure certainty for business on data adequacy.

Labour’s concern with the Bill, however, is based not only on what is actually contained within, but rather what is not.

Firstly, in modern data processing, our data is not only used to make decisions about us as individuals, but is pooled together to analyse trends and predict group behaviours. This Bill does nothing to enable collective rights for these communities of people – something Labour would have inserted.

Public trust and understanding

We would also have sought to improve public trust and understanding in how our data is used, particularly since the willingness to share data has been eroded after the likes of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the NHS data opt-out, and the exam algorithm scandal.

Indeed, the a-level results scandal had a particularly detrimental effect on many of my constituents in Barnsley East, who were disproportionately impacted by lower grades.

As it stands, however, the Bill ignores this crisis in public trust.

The bigger picture of data governance

Finally, Labour would have used this Bill as an opportunity to look at the bigger picture of data governance, for as long as a disproportionate amount of data is held by a limited number of firms, deregulation can only go so far – small businesses will still be at a large competitive disadvantage, stifling innovation, research, and economic growth.

The Data Bill is a prime example of the Governments failure to capture the potential of the industries of the future which fails businesses, consumers and public services.

Labour would take a different approach - using data regulation and innovation as a key lever to drive growth, reform of public services to meet our missions to transform Britain for the better.

About the author

Stephanie Peacock is the Member of Parliament for Barnsley East and Shadow Minister for Media, Data & Digital Infrastructure.

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