The Queen’s Speech 2022: what tech lawyers need to know

May 9, 2022

The UK government has launched its new legislative programme with the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2022. Here is a summary of the developments of interest to tech lawyers.  It is worth noting that some bills have been carried over from the last parliamentary session, such as the Online Safety Bill.

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill

The main elements of the draft Bill are:

  • Tackling subscription traps by requiring businesses to provide clearer information to consumers and to send reminders before a contract auto-renews. 
  • Updating consumer law to prohibit commissioning fake reviews, offering to provide fake reviews, or hosting consumer reviews without taking reasonable steps to ensure reviews are genuine. 
  • Strengthening protections for consumers using Christmas savings clubs and other similar schemes, which are not currently regulated. 
  • Updating and simplifying regulations for package travel, so more businesses comply with the law, non-flight packages are better protected, and the quality of information and guidance for consumers is improved. 
  • Giving the Competition and Markets Authority the power to decide (without going to court) when consumer law has been breached, and to issue monetary penalties for those breaches. 
  • Improving the quality and oversight of services offering dispute resolution, so consumers have more and better alternatives to going to court. 
  • Empowering the Digital Markets Unit to designate a small number of firms who are very powerful in particular digital activities, such as social media and online search, with Strategic Market Status. Firms with SMS will be subject to legally enforceable rules and obligations to ensure they cannot abuse their dominant positions at the expense of consumers and other businesses. 
  • Giving the Digital Markets Unit powers to proactively address the root causes of competition issues in digital markets. It will impose interventions to inject competition into the market, including obligations on tech firms to report new mergers and give consumers more choice and control over their data.

Media Bill

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Ensuring that public service content is prominent, available and easily accessible across a range of platforms. 
  • Updating the public broadcasting framework to better facilitate the delivery of public service broadcasting through digital platforms and promoting the production and distribution of “distinctively British” content. 
  • Giving Ofcom new regulatory powers to draft and enforce a Video-on-Demand Code to make sure services which target and profit from UK audiences are subject to stricter rules protecting UK audiences from harmful material. 
  • Allowing for the conversion of Channel 4 from a statutory corporation to a new corporate structure that could be sold, and other changes concerning Channel 4’s obligations and remit.
  • Updating the public service remit of S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru), the Welsh language television service, to include digital and online services. Removing the current geographical broadcasting restrictions so that S4C can broaden its reach and offer its content on a range of new platforms in the UK and beyond. 
  • Repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would (if commenced) require new publishers to pay the costs of any court judgment if they were not a member of the approved regulator, regardless of the outcome of the court judgment.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

The main elements of the Bill are: 

  • Requiring manufacturers, importers and distributors of smart devices to comply with minimum security standards. The legislation also imposes duties on these businesses to investigate and take action in cases of non-compliance. 
  • Providing a robust regulatory framework that can adapt and keep pace with rapid technological advances, techniques used by cyber criminals, hostile states and broader global regulation. 
  • Reforming the Electronic Communications Code to support faster, fairer and more collaborative negotiations for the use of private and public land to enable deployment of telecommunications networks.

Electronic Trade Documents Bill

The main elements of the Bill are: 

  • Modernising long-standing statutes such as the Bills of Exchange Act 1882 and the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1992. 
  • Removing the legal obstacles to the use of trade documents in digital form, and ensuring that such documents have the same effects as paper counterparts. 
  • Allowing the adoption of new digital solutions which bypass the need for paper and wet ink signatures. 
  • Ensuring that trade documents in electronic form meet certain criteria designed to replicate the key features of paper trade documents. These criteria include: ensuring that an electronic document is subject to exclusive control (only one person, or persons acting jointly, can exercise control over it at any one time) and once transferred the previous holder should no longer be able to exercise control over the document.

Data Reform Bill

This will reform the UK GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018. The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Ensuring that UK citizens’ personal data is protected while enabling public bodies to share data to improve the delivery of services. 
  • Designing a more flexible, outcomes-focused approach to data protection that helps create a culture of data protection, rather than “tick box” exercises.

Online Safety Bill (carried over)

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Introducing a duty of care on online companies, making them responsible for protecting users and tackling illegal content. This will create safeguards and standards so that users know when and how companies are using tools to identify illegal content and to stop harmful material being viewed by children. 
  • Ensuring the largest platforms give users tools to exercise greater control over the types of people and content they interact with. 
  • Protections for democratic and journalistic content. The Bill sets a higher bar for the removal of content that contributes to democratic political debate, and all ‘recognised news publishers’ will be exempt from the Bill’s safety duties (for both children and adults).
  • Requiring providers who publish pornographic content on their services to prevent children from accessing that content, and for the largest platforms to put in place proportionate systems and processes to prevent fraudulent advertisements being published or hosted on their services. 
  • Requiring platforms to have effective and accessible user reporting and redress mechanisms to report concerns about harmful content, and challenge infringement of rights (such as wrongful takedown). 
  • Designating Ofcom as the independent online safety regulator.  Its enforcement powers will include fines of up to £18 million or 10% of qualifying annual global turnover – whichever is greater – as well as business disruption measures. Senior managers of tech firms can be held criminally liable if they fail to comply with information requests from the regulator.

Transport Bill

Among other things, this will introduce new laws that safely enable self-driving and remotely operated vehicles and vessels, and will support the roll-out of electric vehicle charge points.