UK government publishes new plan for innovation-focused digital regulation

July 7, 2021

The UK government is consulting on its Plan for Digital Regulation to reduce red tape with the aim being to foster innovation. The government’s vision is for pro-innovation regulation of digital technologies while minimising serious harms to the UK’s economy, security and society. 

The new plan sets out three guiding principles policymakers must follow and states that the government should only regulate when absolutely necessary and then only in a proportionate way. Policymakers should:

  • Actively promote innovation. Policymakers must back innovation wherever they can by removing unnecessary regulation and burdens and considering non-regulatory measures such as technical standards first.
  • Achieve “forward-looking and coherent outcomes”. Digital technologies are evolving fast and transforming traditional sectors across the economy, so policymakers must make sure new regulation complements, rather than contradicts, existing and planned legislation. 
  • Exploit opportunities and address challenges in the international arena. Digital technologies are not confined to any one country and policymakers must take a global view. They must always consider the international dynamics of proposed regulation, including existing international obligations including trade deals, expected future agreements, and the impact of regulations developed by other nations.

The government says that digital technologies require distinctive regulation because they have distinctive features including the following:

  • the accumulation, processing and portability of personal data
  • oversight, accountability and verification of digital content
  • transparency and use of advanced data analytics and algorithms
  • scale, scope and network effects of digital businesses
  • the relative ease and anonymity of disruption to digital services
  • the global nature of data and digital
  • the critical role of digital infrastructure and networks.

The plan comes ahead of the Online Safety Bill being introduced into Parliament, the development of a pro-growth data regime and a consultation on a new pro-competition regime for digital markets.  The reference to a new data regime is significant, given the UK has only just been granted adequacy by the EU, and only for four years on the understanding that its rules do not diverge from the EU’s.  

The government has also indicated that it will be launching a wide-ranging consultation on online advertising in the autumn. It will look at fraudulent and scam advertising, as well as other forms of potentially harmful or misleading online advertising.

In addition, it highlights its plans for legislation on cyber-security, including connected devices, regulation of advertising of products high in fat, sugar and salt; and digital imprints in election material.

The consultation on the Digital Plan ends on 28 September 2021.