UK Plans To Defend Consumer Privacy With Data Protection Bill

The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport revealed a new Data Protection Bill that aims to protect consumers' personal information.

Data lies at the center of our increasingly digital lives. We share our views on social networks, give away personal information when we use many services, and leave trails of metadata like bread crumbs through a forest. But it's not always clear how that data is used or how you can regain control of it, and the new Data Protection Bill is supposed to make it much easier for you to find the answers to both of those questions.

Perhaps the most headline-worthy aspect of the Data Protection Bill is the proposal to allow you to "ask social media channels to delete information" you posted in your childhood. This is an expansion of the controversial "right to be forgotten" that allows individuals within the European Union to request that search engine providers like Google remove links to certain pages in the results for their name. This time, instead of removing links to external content, the Data Protection Bill would make it easier for you to erase things you said on social media as a kid.

This aspect of the Data Protection Bill is part of a larger push to give UK citizens more control over their information. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said in a press release that the bill will "make it simpler to withdraw consent for the use of personal data," "allow people to ask for their personal data held by companies to be erased," and "make it easier for customers to move data between service providers." Those protections are all focused on taking control over personal data away from tech companies and back to the people.

These issues are pervasive. Companies often use "data silos" to convince people to stick with their services instead of switching to something else. Many also make it hard to delete personal data (or in some cases simply hide that data instead of truly erasing it) despite consumers' wishes. Some also prevent users from withdrawing consent for data sharing. They're like vampires: Once you let them into your life, there's no getting them out. Mitigating these problems could make it easier for you to switch between services, delete your data, and change your mind.

The Data Protection Bill would also:

  • Enable parents and guardians to give consent for their child’s data to be used
  • Require ‘explicit’ consent to be necessary for processing sensitive personal data
  • Expand the definition of ‘personal data’ to include IP addresses, internet cookies and DNA
  • Update and strengthen data protection law to reflect the changing nature and scope of the digital economy
  • Make it easier and free for individuals to require an organisation to disclose the personal data it holds on them

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport also said that "new criminal offences will be created to deter organisations from either intentionally or recklessly creating situations where someone could be identified from anonymised data." This means the bill would not only give you more control over how your data is handled, but it would also punish companies that don't properly secure your personal information. Both changes would give tech companies reason to make sure their data policies and handling are on the up-and-up if they wish to avoid legal trouble.

Note, however, that the Data Protection Bill is limited to how private companies manage your data. The UK government hasn't been quite so privacy-friendly in other regards, especially with the so-called "Snoopers' Charter," which gave the government unprecedented access to private information. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) later ruled against such invasive policies, but Brexit could breathe new life into the country's surveillance efforts. This bill does contain new rules for government data handling and collection, but its focus is on industry.

You can read the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport's full statement of intent for the Data Protection Bill here. Minister for Digital Matt Hancock also discussed the bill in a video published on the department's YouTube channel.

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