Data Reform Bill announced in Queen’s Speech

On 10 May 2022, it was announced in the Queen's Speech that the UK's data protection regime will be reformed through the introduction of the Data Reform Bill (the "Bill"). This follows the Government's consultation paper on reforms to the UK's data protection regime last September.

The background briefing notes on the Queen's Speech (the "Briefing Notes") explain that the Bill's purpose is to "create a trusted UK data protection framework that reduces burdens on businesses [and] boosts the economy." The Government is of the view that the UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 "create burdens on businesses with little benefit to citizens" so it is anticipated that there may be significant changes to both pieces of legislation. Some commentators believe that the Bill could undermine the future of the EU's data adequacy ruling, the decision which has facilitated data transfers between the UK and the EU since Brexit.

The Bill also aims to modernise the Information Commissioner's Office ("ICO") by making sure it has additional powers "to take stronger action against organisations who breach data rules." The Government also hopes that the Bill will encourage increased industry participation in Smart Data Schemes which will give small businesses more control of their data.

At present, the Government has announced that the main elements of the Bill are:

  • Ensuring that the personal data of UK citizens' is protected to a 'gold standard;'
  • Public bodies will be able to share data to improve the delivery of services; and
  • A more flexible, outcomes-focused approach to data protection focused on privacy outcomes will replace the "tick box exercises" required under current data protection law.

The Briefing Notes also touch on territorial scope, outlining that the Bill will generally apply across the UK, with some measures applying in England and Wales only.

Separately, the Government is planning on introducing a Bill of Rights which could replace the Human Rights Act in the future. The Briefing Notes outline that the new legislation will curb "the incremental expansion of a rights culture without proper democratic oversight" and the requirement to follow decisions from the European Court of Human Rights will be removed.  As the UK's continued adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights was a key part of the European's adequacy decisions in respect of the UK, allowing personal data to flow freely from the EEA to the UK, these changes could have a significant data protection impact.

Finally, the Government is planning on introducing the Brexit Freedoms Bill which will aim to end the supremacy of European law. This would enable the Government to change the position of retained EU data protection law which is currently enshrined under UK data protection law. This could have a significant impact as a vast amount of UK data protection law is derived from the EU. At present, the extent of such changes remains unclear.

For more information on the Government's recent proposals click here.