First analyses of the Queen’s Speech are focussing on what isn’t included, as a weakened Conservative Government appears to have dropped a number of its manifesto commitments but there are several worrying things for digital rights. One welcome development could be data protection legislation, to fill the options in the GDPR.
There are references to a review of Counter-terrorism and a Commision for Countering Extremism which will include Internet-related policies. Although details are lacking, these may contain threats to privacy and free speech. The government has opted for a “Digital Charter”, which isn’t a Bill, but something else.
Here are the key areas that will affect digital rights:
This isn’t a Bill, but some kind of policy intervention, backed up by “regulation”. This could be the system of fines for social media companies previously mentioned, but this is not explained.
The Digital Charter appears to address both unwanted and illegal content or activity online, and the protection of vulnerable people. The work of CTIRU and the IWF are mentioned as examples of work to remove illegal or extremist content.
At this point, it is hard to know exactly what harms will emerge, but pushing enforcement into the hands of private companies is problematic. It means that decisions never involve courts and are not fully transparent and legally accountable.
There will be a review of counterterrorism powers. The review includes “working with online companies to reduce and restrict the availability of extremist material online”.
This appears to be a watered down version of the Conservative manifesto commitment to give greater responsibility for companies to take down extremist material from their platforms. Already Google and Facebook have issued public statements about how they intend to improve the removal of extremist material from their platforms.
A Commission will look at the topic of countering extremism, likely including on the Internet.
This appears to be a measure to generate ideas and thinking, which could be a positive approach, if it involves considering different approaches, rather than pressing ahead with policies in order to be seen to be doing something. The quality of the Commission will therefore depend on their ability to take a wide range of evidence and assimilate it impartially; it faces a significant challenge in ensuring that fundamental rights are respected within any policy suggestions they suggest.
A new Data Protection Bill, “will fulfil a manifesto commitment to ensure the UK has a data protection regime that is fit for the 21st century”. This will replace the Data Protection Act 1998, which is in any case being removed as the result of the new General Data Protection Regulation passed by the European Parliament last year. Regulations apply directly, so the GDPR does not need to be ‘implemented’ in UK law before Brexit.
We welcome that (at least parts of) the GDPR will be implemented in primary legislation with a full debate in Parliament. It is not clear if the text of the GDPR will be brought into this Bill, or whether it supplements it.
This appears to be a bill to at least implement some of the ‘derogations’ (options) in the GDPR, plus the new rules for law enforcement agencies, that came in with the new law enforcement-related Directive and have to be applied by EU member states.
The bulk of the important rights are in the GDPR, and cannot be tampered with before Brexit. We welcome the chance to debate the choices, and especially to press for the right of privacy groups to bring complaints directly.
There is no mention of the introduction of compulsory sex and relationship education in schools, which was a manifesto commitment for all the main parties, Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative. As there appeared to be a consensus on this issue, it is not clear why this seems to have been dropped.
Encryption is also not mentioned, but that’s because the powers will be brought in through a statutory instrument enabling Technical Capability Notices.
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