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New Data Protection Bill announced in Queen’s Speech

Minority government reaffirms commitment to data protection after Brexit with new bill.

The State Opening of Parliament is the beginning of a session of the UK Parliament, during which the Queen delivers a speech outlining the Government’s legislative plans.

Today’s Queen’s Speech was delivered in unusual circumstances.  The Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May had called a snap election apparently to deliver a mandate for her vision of Brexit (“no deal is better than a bad deal“), but also to capitalise on apparently historic leads in opinion polls over a divided Labour Party.

However, after a disastrous Conservative campaign, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn made unexpected gains, Whilst the Conservatives remained the largest single party, losses left them without a majority in Parliament. Mrs May hopes to rely on the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party for the votes needed to pass key legislation, but has not yet managed to finalise a deal.

As well as speculation about Mrs May’s future, due to a potential leadership challenge within the Conservative Party, there has been much discussion about the effect of the Government’s reduced mandate on the form Brexit will take.

Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech notably omitted a number of unpopular manifesto commitments of the Conservative Party, including specific social care reforms, new grammar schools and taking away free school lunches for infants.

Instead the focus was on laying the legislative groundwork for Brexit, including the Great Repeal Bill to convert EU law into domestic law on exit (see our previous posts here) and a number of bills to deal with issues such as immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture and fisheries.

Plans for a standalone customs regime have disappointed some who hoped that the Government might change its mind on leaving the EU Customs Union.

Data Protection Bill

Although the Queen’s Speech was otherwise relatively insubstantial, one matter that was included was a new Data Protection Bill:

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.”

The Government’s briefing paper on the Queen’s Speech sets out the key elements of the proposed Bill in more detail:

  • To establish a new data protection regime for non-law enforcement data processing, replacing the Data Protection Act 1998. The new rules strengthen rights and empower individuals to have more control over their personal data, including a right to be forgotten when individuals no longer want their data to be processed, provided that there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it.
  • To modernise and update the regime for data processing by law enforcement agencies. The regime will cover both domestic processing and cross-border transfers of personal data.
  • To update the powers and sanctions available to the Information Commissioner.

WAB Comment

The Government notes that one of the main benefits of the Bill will be to implement the General Data Protection Regulation and a Directive for law enforcement data processing (Directive 2016/680), both of which will come into effect in May 2018.

To that extent, much of the new Bill is merely driven by existing EU obligations which continue to apply to the UK until at least the point of exit. What is of note is the commitment to, “maintain our ability to share data with other EU member states and internationally after we leave the EU.”

The new Data Protection Bill is explicitly intended to both protect data subjects’ rights (for example to the deletion of data, particularly of under-18s using social media), whilst ensuring that the UK can remain at the forefront of digital industries, despite being outside the EU data protection regime after Brexit.

It is a clear indication that data protection obligations on UK businesses will not be lessened by Brexit, because what is regarded by many as “red tape” will be needed to trade with the EU and provide services to EU consumers.

We are holding a free event on Wednesday 13 September 2017 about preparing for the GDPR, see further details here.

See all our recent articles on data protection and the GDPR here.

Disclaimer: This article is produced for and on behalf of White & Black Limited, which is a limited liability company registered in England and Wales with registered number 06436665. It is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The contents of this article should be viewed as opinion and general guidance, and should not be treated as legal advice.

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