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Chi Onwurah

Labour MP for Newcastle Central & Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science & Innovation

GDPR is already seven years out of date

Will the last person to email me about their data privacy policy please shut the door behind them?  If everyone who has said they are going to stop contacting me actually does so then my inbox will certainly be easier to manage in the weeks to come! That is one dividend of the General Data Protection regulation which comes into force today. And there are certainly others. As a Chartered Engineer and a self-confessed data geek I am happy data protection is finally being taken seriously by so many who were not even paying lip service to it before. That is the power of regulation to concentrate minds.

But it is also frustrating because this particular regulation is already about seven years out of date. I’m not counting from how long it took to make its way through the European Union regulatory process but just how long since it was substantially revised to reflect technology evolution.

Increasingly as we live and breathe, we excrete data trails that giant web crawlers digest into opportunities to monitor, control or profit from us in ways that neither we nor our governments fully grasp. And yet GDPR barely takes account of artificial intelligence and algorithmic management and it ignores completely the internet of things which will increase our data trail exponentially.

We need a progressive ownership framework for data. We need that to be debated and discussed by everyone but particularly citizens, including those not online.

This is what Labour is planning to bring forward in the form of a Bill of Digital Rights which would provide strong and easily understood protections for citizens and give us all rights and control over our own data. And rights that cannot be easily taken away – because, let me be clear, the two-tier system of data protection this Government is trying to create, which denies immigrants the protections the rest of us benefit from, is nothing short of a disgrace.

And as well as giving people real rights over their data we need to ensure they have the skills to use it in their own interests. The film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is not fiction but a real reflection of the way in which the Government’s ‘digital by default’ approach translates to people being sanctioned for not having the technical skills they’ve never been given the opportunity to acquire. I’m proud that Labour’s proposed National Educational Service will provide free, high-quality education – including in digital skills – to people of all ages.

At another level the lack of easily accessible guidance on GDPR particularly for small businesses, combined with an absence of any real control for citizens over their data, means we may well just have witnessed the wholesale destruction of valuable data as risk-adverse businesses and public institutions starved of resources opt to destroy data rather than using it for fear that they could be breaking data protection rules.  Don’t forget that the reason officials gave for destroying the Windrush landing cards was ‘Data Protection’.

I like to say that I am a tech evangelist. I believe in the power of technology to change lives for the better and the data revolution can be a tremendous part of that.

I believe the better use of data could not only reduce the costs of public services, saving money to be better used elsewhere, it could improve those services, make them more individual, more personal, faster, more efficient.

But only with a smart, tech-savvy Government prepared to take on the tech giants, put people in charge of their own data and ensure our digital future works for the many, not the few.

Chi Onwurah is Labour MP for Newcastle Central & Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science & Innovation