Government unveils powers to force companies to hand consumers their data

Out-Law News | 04 Feb 2013 | 12:11 pm | 2 min. read

A Government Minister has proposed draft laws that would allow the Government to force businesses to provide consumers with access to data they hold about them.

Late last year the Government said that it would create a backstop power to enable it to introduce regulations which would require mobile network operators; energy companies, and current account and credit card providers to provide consumers with data they hold about transactions or consumption in an "electronic, machine readable" format.

At the time it said that it would, before deciding whether to act on the backstop power, give the firms a chance to conform to the existing voluntary 'midata' standards.

At a meeting of a Lords committee last week Viscount Younger of Leckie formally "moved" amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill which will create such a backstop power once the ERR Bill is finalised. Viscount Younger of Leckie is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Government spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

"The Government remain keen to see businesses continue to engage with the voluntary programme so that quick progress can be made without the need to resort to regulation," Viscount Younger of Leckie said.  "What we want, however, is flexibility to give the Midata programme legislative backing, if it is appropriate to do so, for the benefit of consumers and business in this area of increasing economic potential for the UK."

"Midata gives consumers more control and access to their personal and transaction data, and UK businesses will be able to take advantage of new opportunities as potential developments in the data market continue to emerge," he added.

The Conservative peer said that it is the intention that the Information Commissioner would be responsible for providing primary oversight to any new legislative requirement relating to midata and that new regulations could stipulate that consumers could "go to court themselves" to enforce their data access rights under the regime. He also said that the regulations "could allow for consumers to be charged if that is considered appropriate at that particular stage", although charges would be capped at "the cost of complying with the request for data," he added.

The midata regime was established in 2011. At the time BIS announced that 19 major brands, including Google, Royal Bank of Scotland, British Gas and Visa, had all signed up to the voluntary scheme, which requires signatories to provide consumers with "increasing access to their personal data in a portable, electronic format," according to the Department.

Organisations involved in the midata scheme should be guided by certain 'consumer data' principles when making personal data available to individuals, BIS said. The principles 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 and ensuring that consumers can "access, retrieve and store their data securely".

 

Consumers should also be able to access the information quickly when requested, the information should be "actionable and useful" to the individuals and should enable them to "analyse, manipulate, integrate and share" the information "as they see fit - including participating in collaborative or group purchasing," it added.

Currently individuals have the right to request that organisations grant them access to the personal data they store about them under the Data Protection Act. However, organisations are only obliged to provide the individuals with the information in "an intelligible form". BIS has said that consumers would benefit from having increased access rights under the 'midata' regime.