— The data reform bill returns to Parliament on Wednesday and it’s already ruffling feathers.
— We delve into the details of DSIT’s first big announcement, the 10-point science and tech framework.
— AI experts warn that the U.K.’s public compute infrastructure is “fragmented” and “overly complex.”
This is Tom and this newsletter is dangerously close to its word count so I’m going to jump straight in.
IT’S DATA WEEK: The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will be back in the Commons on Wednesday, with some industry execs getting sight of it later today. The bill was withdrawn in September and then redrawn, at least partially, over the last few months.
Go our own way: The legislation is part of the U.K.’s efforts to show it can navigate its own path on digital rulemaking. But the departure from GDPR could put the U.K. on a collision course with the EU over the data adequacy agreement, which allows the free flow of data between the U.K. and Europe.
Adequate enough? If Europe decided the bill diverged too much from GDPR, and therefore undermined data adequacy, it would be a huge headache for U.K. businesses. Critics also point out that any company dealing with the EU would still have to comply with GDPR as well as the new U.K. regulations.
Who’s got your data? Civil society groups aren’t happy, raising concerns about weakening citizens’ data protection rights and handing too much power to the Secretary of State. One participant, who attended a civil society roundtable held by DCMS, said they all “hated” the bill, describing it as a “solution in search of a problem.” Open Rights Group published a letter to Donelan today signed by 25 organizations urging her to scrap the bill and “begin again.”
Why do it? For the British government, this is all about opening up the country’s treasure trove of data to spur business and innovation. DSIT Secretary of State Michelle Donelan told us last week that GDPR had made organizations too cautious about data and the bill would be “more fit” for businesses, freeing them up from bureaucracy.
‘Sensible balance’: Industry body techUK was broadly positive about the original bill, saying it found a “sensible balance between reform and upholding a high standard of data protection rights.” However, it called for an expansion of the “legitimate interest list” (what companies are allowed to do with your data without direct consent), more coherence between data protection and AI governance, plus clarification on what the Secretary of State’s powers would be.
Message received: It looks like ministers listened. Two people with knowledge of the government’s plans said likely changes include allowing online marketeers greater use of so-called “legitimate interest” arguments for collecting people’s information and the ability for private companies to similarly obtain such personal information for scientific research.
The known unknowns: It won’t be until tomorrow when it is brought back to the House of Commons that we will know exactly how far it has departed from the original bill, but we’ll be following every twist and turn.
MISINFORMATION: The DCMS Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Disinformation meets at 10 a.m. to quiz news industry leaders on how they combat misinfo. Witnesses include David Dinsmore, chief operating officer at News UK, Nick Hopkins, executive editor of news at the Guardian, Alison Phillips, editor of the Daily Mirror and Peter Wright, editor emeritus at DMG Media.
EXCLUDED: The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee continues its inquiry at 2.30 p.m. into how digital exclusion impacts people’s lives and economic growth. Today is the turn of internet providers with Paul Morrison, head of government affairs at Vodafone, Helen Burrows, content and services policy director at BT, Tim Stranack, CEO at Community Fibre Ltd and Helen Wylde, CEO at Wildanet.
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|SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY FRAMEWORK|
FIRST STEPS: We’ve spent some time looking at the details of the 19-page report setting out the government’s new Science and Technology Framework. It is the first big announcement from DSIT and is ambitious in scope. “The framework is the strategic anchor that government policy will deliver against, and which the government will hold itself accountable to,” the report says.
The money: The headline figure is a £500m investment to boost the U.K.’s science and tech industries. Of this, £370m is new funding, with £117m already announced to create hundreds of new PhDs for AI researchers.
Eye on Europe: In her opening remarks to the report, DSIT Secretary of State Michelle Donelan references France and Germany upping their investment in key industries. “We have got to do the same,” she writes.
Moonshot: The report wants to create “shared, common goals” in the same spirit as the US’ drive to get to the moon before the USSR in the 1960s. It will focus on five “critical” technologies: semiconductors, future telecoms, AI, quantum and engineering biology.
Bristol calling: Donelan was at the National Composites Centre in Bristol yesterday to promote the strategy and one of the report’s aims is to pilot “innovation accelerators” in regions to become “major, globally competitive centres for research and innovation.”
At home: The report is packed with ideas on how to achieve this, including forecasting skills gaps, giving high-skilled workers “easy access” to the U.K. through its visa scheme and engaging with pension schemes to remove barriers to invest in innovative U.K. companies. It also commits again to implement in law the recommendations of the Hill Review to enhance the attractiveness of the U.K. as a place to list.
And abroad: Alongside international alliances, the report also says the U.K. will establish a diplomatic network with “strong science and technical knowledge.”
And finally: There is a bigger role for the National Science and Technology Council, a forum established during Liz Truss’ brief time in Number 10. It meets once a month and is chaired by the PM with Donelan as deputy chair.
XI’S DATA BUREAU: Beijing is streamlining its data protection regime with the creation of a new privacy regulator, the Wall Street Journal reports.
TIME’S UP? A preparatory committee of Belgium’s security council gathers today to discuss TikTok. It plans to come up with a proposal on how to handle the social media app on government phones, as our Brussels colleagues reported on Monday.
STEM DIVERSITY: The Australian Government has begun a review into diversity in STEM subjects. Women make up only 16 percent of Australians with a STEM qualification.
OK, COMPUTER: 12.15 a.m. yesterday was a busy time for anyone looking at DSIT’s website. Alongside Sunak and Donelan’s 10-point plan to make the U.K. a tech superpower, the government also published its ‘Future of Compute’ report.
10 recommendations: The lead author is Zoubin Ghahramani, a professor at Cambridge and vice president of research at Google. Alongside other experts, Ghahramani examines what the U.K. needs to do to establish itself as a leader in compute infrastructure, which underpins research in a range of data-intensive fields, including artificial intelligence, drug discovery and climate science. The report sets out 10 recommendations for government.
A plan, please: It says there is currently no long-term plan and therefore the U.K. needs a 10-year strategy, alongside a roadmap for the future of compute.
Someone to deliver it: The report concludes the U.K.’s public compute infrastructure is “fragmented,” making it “overly complex” to use. It therefore needs a national body to coordinate the country’s compute strategy, which should align with the AI and quantum strategy.
Show us the money: The authors say they were asked to find “cost-effective” recommendations, but they do think some money is needed, particularly for attracting and keeping talent in the U.K. and increasing compute capacity for AI research.
Next steps: The report has been sent to Jeremy Hunt and Michelle Donelan. Its authors want a roadmap detailing how the U.K. will achieve its aims in spring 2024.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) has loads of jobs going. It’s looking for a director of legal, product lead, director of corporate, finance chief and executive associate. As we flagged last week, the agency is also recruiting a program director, who will be given £50m to invest in cutting-edge R&D projects. Applications are already being reviewed; the hard deadline is March 14.
LAYOFFS: Twitter can no longer protect you from trolls, government misinfo and child sexual exploitation following mass layoffs, insiders have told the BBC.
SNUBBED: Big data firm, WANdisco is the latest U.K. company which could opt for New York over London in a listing, the Telegraph reports.
Morning Tech wouldn’t happen without editor Oscar Williams.
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