Government steps back from threat to legislate on 'midata'

Out-Law News | 01 Jul 2014 | 2:39 pm | 2 min. read

The UK government has decided against drafting new regulations to require banks, energy companies and mobile providers to provide consumers with better access to their data at this time.

It said that the companies had responded sufficiently well to its existing voluntary 'midata' programme to make the drawing up of new legislation on access to consumer data unnecessary at this time. The government has backstop powers under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Act to enforce better access to data for consumers and had threatened to use those powers if companies did not engage with the midata scheme.

The government made the announcement in revealing the results of its review into the midata scheme (7-page / 151KB PDF).

"A recent commitment from the big banks about midata should ease switching in the personal current accounts market," the government said. "In the energy sector all of the large energy companies now provide access to a data file in a consistent format to their customers and the secretary of state for energy and climate change and I have recently agreed with them and third party intermediaries that they will work together towards providing third parties with automated access to consumer’s data in a safe and secure way."

"Given this progress we do not think that there is a strong objective case for using our powers under the ERR Act to require companies to release data at this time but we will review the situation in energy again in September and for other sectors in scope at the end of this year," it said.

To address concerns raised about the protection of consumers' personal data, as raised in the UK parliament, the government said that a new code of practice is to be developed to ensure that third parties that may have access to consumer data make "ethical use" of that data only, with that use "centred on consumer protection and benefit".

The government has also published a summary of the existing regulations, guidance and redress covering personal data (9-page / 195KB PDF) to help raise consumer awareness of those rules and how they can obtain redress if they believe their data has been mishandled by companies.

The midata scheme requires voluntary signatories to provide consumers with access to their personal data in a "portable, electronic format". The 'consumer data' principles that midata adopters adhere to include making the data available in "an open standard format" that is "reusable" and "machine-readable" in as standard form as is possible across sectors.

The initiative, established by the government in 2011 and backed by major brands such as Google, RBS, British Gas and Visa, is intended to allow consumers to be able to access their information quickly and be able to use the information the businesses provide them with to "analyse, manipulate, integrate and share" the information "as they see fit".

However, following concerns about the low adoption rate of the midata programme, the government exerted pressure on banks, energy companies and mobile providers in particular to adopt a more open approach to sharing data with their customers.

It created backstop powers, contained within the ERR Act, to force energy suppliers, mobile network operators and current account and credit card providers, or any other group of organisations, to provide customers with access to their electronically-held transaction data.