This Week’s Techlaw News Round-up

March 28, 2024

UK law

Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill receives second reading

The Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill has received its second reading in the House of Lords.  Committee stage is yet to be scheduled. The Bil is a private member’s bill which would introduce a new body, the AI Authority, which would have various functions designed to help address AI regulation in the UK. It would also put regulatory principles for artificial intelligence into law.  As a private member’s bill, it is very unlikely to become law.

House of Lords European Affairs Committee launches inquiry about data adequacy

The House of Lords European Affairs Select Committee has launched an inquiry into data adequacy and its implications for the UK-EU relationship. The inquiry comes ahead of the upcoming renewal decision in 2025 to continue allowing the free flow of commercial and criminal investigation related personal data to and from the EU, which was granted by the EU post-Brexit under the GDPR and the Law Enforcement Directive. The inquiry will focus on how current arrangements are working in practice, including benefits and shortcomings, as well as the possible implications of any divergence in the respective data protection regimes of the UK and EU. Evidence is requested by 3 May 2024.

Ofcom has announced new mobile roaming rules

Ofcom has announced new mobile roaming rules aimed at protecting customers.  At the end of June 2022, statutory protections designed specifically to protect customers when roaming fell away. Since then, Ofcom has been reviewing customers’ experiences of roaming (both in the EU and more widely) to understand whether customers are adequately protected from potential harms when roaming. In July 2023, it consulted on proposals for new rules and guidance relating to roaming and inadvertent roaming (when a customer’s device connects to a network in a different country even though the customer is not physically in that country). Ofcom has now published its final decision on the changes to the General Conditions and new guidance, which come into force on 1 October 2024.

CMA decides Vodafone-Three merger may lessen competition within UK markets

Last year, Vodafone UK and Three UK announced a new joint venture agreement which would bring their 27 million customers under a new, single network provider. The CMA launched its initial Phase 1 investigation in January after it was notified by Vodafone UK and Three UK. The CMA is concerned the deal, which combines two of the four mobile network operators in the UK, could lead to mobile customers facing higher prices and reduced quality. Vodafone UK and Three UK have five working days to respond with meaningful solutions to the CMA, otherwise the deal will be referred to a more in-depth Phase 2 investigation.

Ofcom publishes its Plan of Work for 2024/25 and AI strategy

Ofcom has published its Plan of Work for 2024/25, setting out its areas of focus for the next financial year. The sectors it regulates are constantly evolving, with technology advancing, markets transforming, and consumer behaviour changing. The next twelve months will also be the first full financial year since the passage of the Online Safety Act. It will see significant milestones as Ofcom implements its new duties. The Plan of Work sets out its priorities for the year ahead and explains how it will deliver on them.  Alongside the Plan, it has published its AI strategy too.

Ofcom launches 2026 wholesale telecoms review to power-up gigabit broadband rollout

Ofcom has started its review of the regulations that will apply to the UK wholesale telecoms markets from April 2026 until March 2031. The review aims to ensure that the UK’s broadband infrastructure is fit for the future. It will aim to set the right environment to promote competition and investment in gigabit-capable broadband, to deliver better services and more choice to consumers. Since the conclusion of its last review in 2021, Openreach and many other companies have increased the rollout of their next-generation networks. Gigabit-capable broadband is now available to more than 23.2 million homes (78% of the UK), and more than 17.1 million homes (57%) can access full-fibre broadband. Ofcom expects to publish its main consultation on proposals for regulation early next year, with a view to publishing its final decisions in early 2026.

FCA warns firms and influencers to keep their social media ads lawful

Guidance for memes, reels and gaming streams promoting financial services has been published by the FCA. The FCA has set out how adverts across social media channels must be fair, clear and not misleading, meaning they must have balance and carry the right risk warnings so people can make well informed financial decisions. Social media has become a central part of firms’ marketing strategies. Firms are responsible for all their promotions and the FCA has warned they need to ensure influencers they work with communicate to their followers in the right way. In addition, influencers are reminded that promoting a financial product without approval from an FCA-authorised person with the right permission could be a criminal offence.

Procurement Policy Note provides guidance on AI in procurement

The Cabinet Office has published Procurement Policy Note 02/24: Improving Transparency of AI use in Procurement (PPN 02/24). It provides optional questions to help identify the use of AI in procurements, and in the delivery of government services.

EU law

European Commission publishes guidelines under the DSA for the mitigation of systemic risks online for elections

The Commission has published guidelines on recommended measures to Very Large Online Platforms and Search Engines to mitigate systemic risks online that may affect the integrity of elections, with specific guidance for the upcoming European Parliament elections in June. Under the Digital Services Act, designated services with more than 45 million active users in the EU have the obligation to mitigate the risks related to electoral processes, while safeguarding fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of expression. These guidelines recommend mitigation measures and best practices to be undertaken by Very Large Online Platforms and Search Engines before, during, and after electoral events. The Commission plans a stress test at the end of April to exercise the most effective use of the instruments and the cooperative mechanisms that have been put in place.