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Queens speech reveals what's on the horizon for data protection

The Queen's Speech last month indicated that a number of interesting data protection developments are on the horizon. The legislative plans for the next session of Parliament include the Digital Economy Bill, which will reform the way in which government uses data to deliver public services and strengthen protection for consumers from spam email and nuisance calls.

Digital Economy Bill

The intention of the new legislation is to "make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy" and includes the following measures:

  • Protecting citizens in the digital economy: measures will be introduced to protect consumers from spam email and nuisance calls by ensuring consent is obtained for direct marketing. The Information Commissioner will be empowered to impose fines on any organisation that break the rules. To protect children, age verification measures will also be required for all sites containing pornographic material.
  • Government data and digital services: the government hopes to reform the way that it uses data to deliver public services and produce more timely and accurate statistics. Public authorities will also be given new powers to share information to combat fraud.
  • Empowering consumers: amongst the new measures will be a new power for Ofcom to order communications providers to release data in the interests of the consumer and competition.

In addition, measures will be introduced to give individuals and also businesses the legal right to have a fast broadband connection. Differences in online and offline copyright laws will also be addressed to support digital industries.

Bill of Rights

Despite ongoing criticism of the government's proposals, the Queen's Speech confirmed that the government intends to press ahead with its reform of human rights laws by the introduction of a British Bill of Rights. The rights in the Bill are based on the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects personal data as part of an individual's private life. A full consultation will be undertaken once the proposals are published.

Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill

Measures will be introduced to tackle extremism and protect the public, including stronger powers for the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The government's Counter-Extremism Strategy published in October 2015 states that measures will be introduced to enable employers to identify extremists and stop them working with children and vulnerable groups. Anyone with a conviction or civil order for extremist activity will be subject to the DBS's automatic barring arrangements.

Investigatory Powers Bill

The Queen's Speech also made reference to the existing Investigatory Powers Bill which has been carried over from the last session of Parliament. 

The aim of the Bill is to overhaul and consolidate the rights of law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies to intercept communications and data on communications. 

A ‘double-lock’ will be introduced for the most intrusive warrants, including interception, so that these cannot come into force until they have been approved by a judge. A new Investigatory Powers Commissioner will be created to oversee the new arrangements. 

The Bill also makes a new provision for the retention of internet connection records in order for law enforcement to identify the communications service to which a device has connected.  

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2016. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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