Tag Archives: data protection bill

Ed Davey: Data protection exemption for immigration will ruin thousands of lives

The Government’s Data Protection Bill is generally good, but its exemption for immigration is a very bad thing. Ed Davey explained why the measure will ruin thousands of lives in his speech in the Commons debate this week.

I want to speak about the actual Bill, not amendments made in the other House. This piece of legislation is very welcome. It emanates from the EU, and I am delighted that the Government are implementing it. This regulation was being formed when I was a junior Minister in the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Britain was very supportive of it and was leading on it. Indeed, I served on the Competitiveness Council and formed a like-minded group for growth, on which Britain was leading the way in Europe in developing further the single market in energy and in digital services. It was clear that this regulation was essential for British business, because Britain was leading in digital services and needed this to support our businesses trading across the EU, and to give consumers the confidence that this brings. It was a key area for business for Britain, and we pushed it.

It is therefore particularly ironic that we are transposing this regulation into UK law just as we are pulling out of the EU. The legislation before us is excellent, it has cross-party support and it is a perfect example of why Brexit is a bad idea for the UK. We were highly influential in the conception and birth of this regulation as a member of the EU, but thanks to Brexit, we will not be at the conception and birth of a daughter of this EU regulation. There is bound to be a daughter of the GDPR, given the speed with which these technologies are developing. Inside the EU, the UK fashioned this regulation; we were a rule maker, and we were in control. With Brexit, we will not have a vote, we will be a rule taker, and we will have lost control. There could not be a clearer example of how Brexit will actually weaken Britain’s democracy and sovereignty—the precise reverse of what was promised to the people. Although I welcome this legislation in general, I do fear for the future.

However, I have one massive concern about the Bill. It relates not to what came from the EU, but to what Whitehall has done to the legislation. It used to be called “gold-plating”, but in this case I would call it “dirt-smearing” the regulation. I refer, of course, to the immigration exemption in schedule 2. I am disturbed about that for a number of reasons, some of which other Members have mentioned. However, to get the Minister’s attention, I should say that if the legislation is passed with that exemption, that will put at risk the chances of the UK’s obtaining a data adequacy agreement prior to Brexit—something essential for business and vital for security. The immigration exemption is not allowed under the EU’s regulation; it will be found to be illegal. It is clearly in breach of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, undermining article 8 on the protection of personal data, article 20 on equality before the law and article 21 on non-discrimination.

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Christine Jardine on how a liking for curly fries can influence the ads you see

The Data Protection Bill is going through the House of Commons at the moment. Christine Jardine and Ed Davey were leading for the Liberal Democrats.

The best speeches in the Commons are those where rather than stick to their carefully prepared and researched notes, the MP gets incensed by the twaddle being spouted by the other side and just goes for them.

Christine had intended to concentrate on personal data, but the former journalist was so annoyed by the Tories’ abandonment of Leveson 2 and their lame justifications thereof that she just went for them. She understands perfectly well that it is possible to do both good investigative journalism and follow good practice.

She then touched on how use of our personal data impacts on us. I’m slightly alarmed by what she said because I loathe and detest curly fries, yet, apparently, those who like them apparently have higher IQs and, if they express a preference for them could end up with being bombarded with adverts for MENSA. She used this and a deeply personal one to illustrate the extent to which our innocently expressed preferences can be used.

Here’s the whole speech.

It is fair to say that my party broadly supports much of this Bill, which is a vital component in our continued and smooth co-operation with the EU, should Brexit go ahead, but that support is not without qualification, which I shall come to shortly. As an EU member, we are assumed to be compliant with the requirements of the Union, but as a third party we will be required to demonstrate a suitable standard of protections. Failure to do this would jeopardise the co-operation that even the most zealous Brexiteers, I should imagine, want to maintain in defence and security.

The Data Protection Bill and the general data protection regulation bring existing best practice into law. This is not an onerous burden; it is a natural progression for information rights in the digital age. However, we have reservations about some aspects that we will discuss later. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) intends to speak about the proposed immigration exemptions. I had ​intended to concentrate on areas that deal with our personal data and the help that industry and charity organisations will need to cope with this regulation, but as the debate has progressed, I have become increasingly concerned about the Government’s intention to overthrow the amendment by the House of Lords. The Data Protection Bill is an important vehicle through which to bring forward recommendations from the Leveson inquiry, as this House promised to do. Data processing for investigative journalism purposes must strike a balance between press freedom and the individual’s right to privacy.

As a journalist, I value freedom of speech and freedom of the press as much as any other person. As a journalist, I was always impressed by and proud of colleagues who uncovered miscarriages of justice, political corruption or malpractice in India, for example. The freedom of the press to scrutinise and hold to account those in power—as the hon. Member for Dudley South said, the relationship between journalists and politicians should not be an easy one—is vital in a democracy. It must not, however, be at the cost of the individual—to their privacy in times of grief or hardship, to their hard-won personal and professional reputations—or mean chasing them when they have done nothing wrong other than perhaps disagree with the stance of a newspaper. That cannot be the way.

Newspapers in this country are not free of regulation. Broadcasting has to apply the standards set by Ofcom. Newspapers have to abide by the law of libel, contempt of court and the criminal code. All those things are necessary, but in an increasingly digital age it is necessary to ensure that all publications abide by data protection regulations. It is more than 20 years since Calcutt warned the press that they were drinking in the last chance saloon. Well, they have had their drink and frankly they have been thrown out. The Press Council failed, the Press Complaints Commission failed, and this House promised to bring forward a statutorily underpinned body. Self-regulation with statutory underpinning—it is good enough for every other industry, it is good enough for the Law Society, so why are we not prepared to follow through for the press? The vast majority of journalists are honourable. As the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) said, we are talking about a small minority, but that small minority can do immense damage to individual’s lives—we saw it with the McCanns, with Milly Dowler and with the Hillsborough inquiry—and it is not good enough for us to say they are doing a good enough job; they patently are not, which is why I hope the House will uphold the amendments passed in the other place.

I turn now to what I had intended to speak about: the rights of individuals and the problem many have in talking about data and regulation. It sounds like a technical issue—something that does not affect them directly in their everyday lives. Algorithms are a mystery that many of us have no desire to investigate, never mind solve, yet they are a major influence in our increasingly technology-driven and social media-driven lives. Data harvesting can sneak into every corner of our existence, undertaken by public and private organisations—those we deal with and many that just want to deal with us, or use what they know about us. The information we provide tells them how to sell us everything from cars and mortgages to life insurance and funerals. As more and more information about our daily lives is digitally recorded, ​it is important that individuals have more control. With the passing of the Bill we should all be able to rest assured that the information is being used both ethically and responsibly, including by the national and regional press, and that we have access to ensure that it is accurate, whether it is available to individuals or public or private bodies.

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