Cynics who question whether the government ever takes a blind bit of notice of public consultation responses may need to rethink. Nearly a quarter of all the reforms proposed in last year’s consultation on liberalising data protection law have been dropped, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has revealed. Of the 92 proposals in the ‘Data: a new direction’ paper, the government has formally decided not to proceed with 21. Another six have been kicked in to touch to be considered further.
The attrition rate is significant because the UK’s ability to escape from the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations has become totemic in the quest for ‘Brexit freedoms’. The GDPR figured strongly in last year’s attack on ‘Napoleonic, code-based’ regulation by the prime minister’s Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform.
But, as nearly 3,000 responses to the consultation showed, deregulation is neither simple nor, apparently, popular. One area where the government met an almost solid wall of hostility was the proposal to abolish the right not to be subject to significant decisions made by computer. This has become a particularly emotive issue amid concern about the employment of artificial intelligence algorithms in areas such as law enforcement and credit approval.
In truth, this so-called Article 22 right is not a particularly strong protection. It applies only to decisions based solely on automated data processing, so the addition of any human scrutiny beyond a mere rubber stamp would negate it. Nonetheless, the government apparently saw it as a barrier to the growth of the knowledge economy and the quest for efficient digital public services.
Last week, however, the government said it would not pursue this proposal. The response concedes that the vast majority of respondents opposed removing Article 22, saying that the right to human review of important decisions taken by computer algorithm was a key safeguard. ‘Some respondents argued that the complete removal of Article 22 would damage the reputation of the UK as a trustworthy jurisdiction for carrying out automated decision-making,’ the response noted.