Exchanging data securely across borders is essential, says government

September 10, 2020

The DCMS has launched a consultation on a new national data strategy for the UK. It sets out how it aims to maintain a regulatory regime that is not too burdensome for smaller business and supports responsible innovation. The DCMS says:

“we need a data strategy that reflects the opportunities and challenges of our new hyper-digital world; a strategy that ensures that the decisions, priorities and potential trade-offs that face us are considered in a deliberate and evidence-driven way.”

It has also published the Government Office for Science’s The Future of Citizen Data Systems report, which examines different approaches to the governance, control and use of data worldwide. The DCMS says that it provides an evidence base for the strategy. The government asks whether the mission and priorities of the data strategy focus on the right areas.  It also requests examples of how data was or should have been used to deliver public benefits during the coronavirus pandemic, beyond its use directly in health and social care. 

There are five main strands (or missions) to the government’s data strategy (which applies to data in its widest sense not just personal data):

  • Unlocking the power of data across the economy;
  • Maintaining a pro-growth and trusted data regime;
  • Transforming government’s use of data;
  • Ensuring the security and resilience of data infrastructure and
  • Championing the international flow of data.

According to the consultation, for data to have the most effective impact, it needs to be appropriately accessible, mobile and re-usable. That means encouraging better coordination, access to, and sharing of, data of appropriate quality between organisations in the public sector, private sector and third sector, and ensuring appropriate protections for the flow of data internationally.

The true value of data can only be fully realised when it is fit for purpose, recorded in standardised formats on modern, future-proof systems and held in a condition that means it is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. By improving the quality of the data used, it can be used more effectively, and drive better insights and outcomes from its use.

The consultation further says that the UK will maintain a data regime that supports its future objectives and promotes growth and innovation while maintaining public trust. The aim is that this regime will neither be overly burdensome for the average company, nor unnecessarily complex or vague. The government also says that it will help innovators and entrepreneurs use data legitimately to build and expand their businesses, without undue regulatory uncertainty or risk at both the domestic and international levels.

To encourage the widespread uptake of digital technologies, the UK government intends to work with regulators to provide advice and support to small- and medium-sized businesses to help them expand online, and develop sector specific guidance and co-regulatory tools which it hopes will accelerate digitisation across the UK economy.

There is significant untapped potential in the way the government uses data. It will implement changes with the aim of driving innovation and productivity across the UK so as to improve the delivery of public services, as well as its ability to measure the impact of policies and programmes, and to ensure resources are used effectively.

A Government Chief Data Officer will be appointed. They will be responsible for shaping and delivering the government’s innovation and transformation strategies to improve capability and ensure the government can better leverage data and emerging technologies to design and deliver citizen-centric services.

As well as compliance with data protection legislation, the government says that it will also take a greater responsibility for ensuring that data is sufficiently protected when in transit, or when stored in external data centres. Further, it will consider the sustainability of data use, exploring inefficiencies in stored and processed data, and other carbon-inefficient processes.

The government aims to build trust in the use of data, creating the regimes, approaches and tools to ensure personal data is appropriately safeguarded as it moves across borders. It also intends to facilitate cross-border data flows by removing unnecessary barriers to international data transfers that promote growth and innovation. Finally, it will seek to promote data standards, data interoperability, and UK values internationally.

It also plans to introduce primary legislation to boost participation in Smart Data initiatives, which can give people the power to use their own data to find better tariffs in areas such as telecoms, energy and pensions.

It also intends to fund a project to address current barriers to data sharing and support innovation to detect online harms. Through this programme, the government will review and upgrade the data standards and systems that underpin the monitoring and reporting of online harms such as child sexual abuse, hate speech and self-harm and suicide ideation.


The UK government says that it is particularly concerned that any such strategy complies with the Equality Act 2010 and does not have a negative impact on people with protected characteristics.  In addition, it is concerned that proposals deal with regional inequalities and support the whole of the UK.

Next steps

The consultation ends on 2 December 2020. The government will consider the responses and then publish further detail on the proposed strategy actions and the associated monitoring and evaluation framework, building on the responses in the consultation to do this.