UK gov mulls tech industry deregulation drive

DCMS outlines a new regulatory framework that prioritises 'innovation' and promises to 'cut red tape'

The UK government has signalled its intent to shake up the regulatory landscape overseeing the tech industry in the UK by stripping back “cumbersome and confusing policy” and cutting down on “red tape”.

The so-called Plan for Digital Regulation puts forward a vision in which innovation and economic growth will be prioritised when new policies are proposed and older pieces of legislation are reviewed. 

When considering new legislation, policymakers must follow three guiding principles that comprise this framework. These include actively promoting innovation, achieving ‘forward-looking and coherent outcomes’ and exploiting opportunities, and addressing challenges in the international arena. 

“How we govern digital technologies is one of the most pressing issues of our age,” said the government’s digital secretary Oliver Dowden, “Today we are setting out a pro-growth vision to shape the future.

"Our principles-based approach will ensure innovation is embedded in any new regulation, and we will look to reduce red tape to enable our vibrant tech sector to thrive."

The government’s desire to promote innovation, for instance, will see “unnecessary regulation and burdens” removed, with non-regulatory measures such as technical standards considered as a priority. Policymakers must also ensure that new regulations complement rather than contradict existing or planned regulations. 

Finally, new proposals must always consider the UK’s international obligations, including trade deals and future arrangements, and the impact of regulations developed by other countries. 

The government, under Boris Johnson, has signalled time and again its intent to strip back regulations governing the tech industry, particularly in the way that figures close to the prime minister have castigated GDPR

A taskforce commissioned by Downing Street branded the EU’s data protection regime, which was baked into UK law, as “prescriptive and inflexible” just last month. It proposed scrapping the rules and replacing them with a new framework that doesn’t stifle growth, and promotes innovation.

The language used in this report mirrors that pushed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in its Plan for Digital Regulation. This suggests that already established legislation such as GDPR and the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018 will be reviewed under the purview of this plan.

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"Creating a framework for digital regulation that promotes innovation is a global challenge. If the UK can get this right, we can drive discussions at the international level and build on our reputation as a leading digital economy,” said the CEO of the trade association techUK, Julian David.

"The Plan for Digital Regulation is a strong start and shows the government’s commitment to creating a coordinated, proportionate and innovation-focused regulatory system.

"We look forward to working with the government in making this plan a reality by building a partnership with the sector to dig into the detail and turn these strong core principles into a forward-looking framework that reinforces the UK’s position as a top tier destination for technology companies."

The government has invited contributions from the industry as well as the general public in a consultation on what this framework should look like specifically. 

In principle, the government is also hoping to deliver a joined-up approach to regulation. This model will see the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) avoid regulatory overlap and cooperate much more deeply on regulatory matters against tech giants.

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