Out-Law News 3 min. read

Cyber, data and tech initiatives permeate Queen’s Speech

Businesses can expect significant legislative reform in the UK around their use of data and technology, experts have said.

Reforms to UK data protection laws, a Financial Services and Markets Bill that supports fintech innovation and improves resilience in technology outsourcing in financial services, and new rules to enable the use of self-driving vehicles on public roads, are all anticipated over the next parliamentary year, as trailed in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech. A Bill to support the use of technologies to “promote sustainable and efficient farming and food production” is also envisaged.

In addition, the government confirmed that it will also continue with its plans to stiffen cybersecurity obligated for connected products and make it easier for telecoms providers to improve the UK’s digital infrastructure under its Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, first presented to parliament in November 2021. Another existing piece of draft legislation, the Online Safety Bill, which was tabled earlier this year and envisages new obligations for many online service providers, is also to be progressed.

Kirsop Jonathan

Jonathan Kirsop

Partner, Head of Technology, Media, and Telecoms

The Queen’s Speech did confirm the government’s intention to proceed with a Data Reform Bill over the next parliamentary year

“The government is explicit about its ambitions to grow the economy – many of its legislative initiatives referenced in the Queen’s Speech are presented as targeting more and better use of data and technology to support the innovation and deliver efficiencies to boost productivity and enable growth,” said Rosie Nance, an expert in technology law at Pinsent Masons.

Data protection reform is one of the most significant, and potentially controversial, areas of change the government is pursuing.

Data protection law expert Jonathan Kirsop of Pinsent Masons said: “The UK government consulted last year on plans to amend UK data protection law, focusing particularly on areas where it sees opportunities to address what it considers to be disproportionate administrative burdens on businesses within the existing legislation.”

“Businesses have been eagerly awaiting publication of the government’s response to that consultation for more concrete indications about the policy direction. While that detail has yet to materialise, the Queen’s Speech did confirm the government’s intention to proceed with a Data Reform Bill over the next parliamentary year. These reforms will have major implications not just for UK businesses but for companies based overseas that sell goods or services to UK-based consumers,” Kirsop said.

“Businesses would welcome targeted reforms that reduce compliance burdens and support data-related innovation, but they are concerned that if substantial reform is pursued it could jeopardise the free flow of data between the UK and EU, which remains an essential element to business’ cross-border operations and trade,” he said.

According to high-level information published by the government alongside the Queen’s Speech, the Data Reform Bill will, among other things, deliver a shift to “flexible, outcomes-focused approach to data protection that helps create a culture of data protection, rather than ‘tick box’ exercises”, encourage greater data sharing through ‘smart data schemes’, and simplify rules on the processing of personal data for scientific research.

Nance said: “The Bill is being presented as an opportunity to innovate following Brexit and allow the UK to take its own approach to innovating in the data space, in parallel with EU initiatives such as the EU Data Governance Act and EU Data Act.”

Technological innovation in the automotive sector is also anticipated with the government’s planned Transport Bill.

The Bill will, among other things, include “new laws that safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles and vessels, support the roll-out of electric vehicle charge points and enabling the licensing of London pedicabs”, according to the government.

Ben Gardner, who specialises in matters concerning the future of mobility, said: “The announcements are crucial to removing two of the key barriers to the development and roll out of self-driving and electric vehicles in the UK: regulatory obstacles and infrastructure constraints.”

Last month the government set out a draft amendment to the Highway Code that would facilitate the use of self-driving vehicles on public roads in the UK. That move followed the conclusion of a three-year review by the Law Commission for England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission into what legislative and regulatory changes are needed to support the use of self-driving on UK roads.

The Law Commissions envisage distinct new regulatory regimes for self-driving vehicles where someone would sit in the driving seat and be able to take manual control over the vehicle – a so-called ‘user-in-charge’ – and for ‘no user-in-charge’ vehicles where journeys could be completed without on-board human intervention. They further propose that a distinction is made in law between autonomous vehicle features that merely aid drivers and those that deliver self-driving.

Gardner said: “Feedback from the government’s consultations on current driving regulations and the recommendations from the Law Commission’s reports could help to layout the foundations of a future regulatory framework for the deployment of self-driving vehicles on UK roads. However, the question remains whether the changes to laws can be implemented quickly enough for the UK to remain an attractive destination for those wanting to develop and commercialise future automotive technologies.”

In March, the government set out an electric vehicle infrastructure strategy. Gardner said legislative change to underpin the aims of the strategy, which include to significant grow the number of public chargepoints and improve access to ‘rapid’ charging, is important.

“In addition to increasing the number of chargepoints available, it is crucial that the infrastructure is reliable and user friendly in order to convince road users to move away from petrol and diesel vehicles,” Gardner said.

Rosie Nance of Pinsent Masons said the government’s plans to impose new baseline security requirements around the sale of internet-connected ‘smart’ products under its Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill form just part of a broader drive it is engaged in to improve cybersecurity in the UK.

“Cyber risk is prevalent, with a rise in ransomware attacks reported and the ever-increasing sophistication of hackers as they seek to infiltrate corporate systems and access data,” Nance said. “It is understandable that cybersecurity is a growing boardroom concern.”

“At the heart of the government’s plans to deliver economic growth are legislative changes designed to support data- and technology-related innovation. However, the growth that is often associated with such innovation risks being undermined if customers, especially consumers, lack trust in the technology or in the way their data is being handled,” she said.

“It is in this context that it is unsurprising that the government is seeking to lift cybersecurity standards in, and consumer protections around, ‘smart’ products. It is also against that backdrop that the government recently proposed a voluntary code of practice for app store operators which is designed to address privacy and security concerns. The government has said it could explore putting the code on a regulatory footing in future,” Nance said.

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