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UK announces Data Protection and Digital Information Bill amendments to improve data security

Written by Wed 29 Nov 2023

The UK Government will amend the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill to improve national security, data security, and prevent fraud. The amendments are expected to deliver post-Brexit economic opportunities to the tune of at least £4 billion ($5 billion).

The Government said the ‘common-sense’ amendments to the UK Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will build an innovative data protection regime in the UK.

“These changes protect our privacy and data … whether it is cracking down on cookies, scrapping pointless paperwork which stifles productivity, tackling benefit fraud, or making it easier to protect our citizens from criminals,” said Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology.

The amendments are also intended to help the Bill realise its ambition of eliminating burdens for businesses and removing restrictions for researchers. The Government hopes new advances in science, innovation, and technology can be fuelled by more practical ways to access data.

The amendments cover the use of biometric data to strengthen national security. The changes will enhance the Counter Terrorism Police’s authority to retain biometric information of individuals considered a threat. Biometric data includes information like fingerprints.

The changes will allow officers to retain biometric data for as long as an INTERPOL notice is in force. This process will match up with INTERPOL’s own retention rules. 

The amendments will also ensure that where an individual has a foreign conviction, their biometrics can be retained indefinitely. This aligns with the current process for individuals with UK convictions.

The Government said this is particularly important where foreign nationals may have existing convictions for serious offences, including terrorist offences.

Data Preservation to Help Grieving Families

Another measure announced offers reassurance and support to families as they grieve the loss of a child. 

A proposed ‘data preservation process’ will mandate social media companies to retain pertinent personal information for potential use in subsequent investigations or inquests relating to suicide.

Current rules mean that social media companies are not obliged to hold onto this data for longer than necessary. This means that data which could be vital to investigations could be lost as part of a platform’s routine maintenance. 

“This Bill will improve the efficiency of data protection for our security and policing partners, encouraging better use of personal information, and ensuring appropriate safeguards for privacy,” said James Cleverly, Home Secretary.

 The Government said this change represents an important step for families coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

Battling Benefit Fraud

The new Bill changes will also require data from third parties to help the UK Government reduce benefit fraud. The Government said these changes will save the taxpayer up to £600 million ($760 million) over the next five years. They are particularly targeted at banks and financial organisations.

Currently, the Department for Work and Pensions can only undertake fraud checks on claimants on an individual basis and where there is already a suspicion of fraud. 

The new proposals will allow regular checks on the bank accounts of benefit claimants to identify savings increases over the eligibility threshold. These checks will also address instances where individuals spend more time overseas than permitted by the benefit rules.

“These powers will be used proportionately, ensuring claimants’ data is safely protected while rooting out fraudsters at the earliest possible opportunity,” said Mel Stride, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The Government said the amendments will expedite fraud detection and response. To prioritise privacy, minimal data will be accessed and only in cases indicating a potential risk of fraud or error.

Companies that were fined £13.5 million ($17.1 million) in the first six months of 2023 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) serve as a reminder of the repercussions of mishandling personal information.

The Bill has previously faced criticism by the Open Rights Group for undermining individual control over data in favour of big business.

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email [email protected] or [email protected]. Youth suicide charity Papyrus can be contacted on 0800 068 4141 or email [email protected].

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Written by Wed 29 Nov 2023

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