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07 Jul 2021

UK Government publishes Digital Regulation policy paper

Gemserv Limited Stand: 4/K31

The paper makes clear that the UK government sees digital leadership as a core UK strength, noting that over 34,000 new tech businesses were created in 2018 alone and that the UK saw more international venture capital investment in tech than France and Germany combined. It also places digital leadership at the heart of the UK’s ‘soft power’ international relations strategy. 

Digital technology is historically a significant regulatory challenge. The tech motto ‘move fast and break things’ is really about finding disruptive opportunities that challenge existing regulatory frameworks and norms. The global nature of tech businesses also makes enforcement of national standards a challenge.  

To address this, the paper sets out a vision and principles for UK digital regulation, both with three pillars.  

The vision

The government’s vision is: “To drive prosperity through our regulation of digital technologies, while minimising harms to the economy, security and society.” 

The three underlying objectives are:  

  • Promoting competition and innovation 
  • Keeping the UK safe and secure online 
  • Promoting a flourishing, democratic society 

For businesses, this means the UK government wants to create competitive digital markets where businesses of all sizes can use data in innovative ways. Cybersecurity must be built into products from the outset to protect citizens, to ensure that businesses are resilient and to protect the security of UK networks and critical infrastructure. The media and press must be able to flourish online.

For individuals, this means the UK government wants to ensure that cybersecurity and choice are built into digital technologies from the outset so that they can trust that they will be treated fairly, protected from harms outside their control and that their data will be used responsibly and in line with their privacy preferences.  

The principles

The UK government plans to drive regulation by the following principles:  

  • Actively promote innovation 
  • Achieve forward-looking and coherent outcomes 
  • Exploit opportunities and address challenges in the international arena 

This means that the UK government plans to use a range of tools and measures to promote its objectives, not just regulation. These could include norms, self-regulation, statutory codes of conduct and technical standards. Regulators will be encouraged to work together, share information and develop joint approaches through mechanisms such as the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum and to address causes rather than symptoms of harm.  

International agreements – both those agreed and those foreseen – including trade deals will be built into policies from the beginning. The paper lists specific initiatives with the US, India and Singapore.  

What to expect

It is clear that we are about to enter a period of potentially significant change that will introduce opportunities and challenges for organisations. Boards will need to be prepared for this, and should ensure they have a strategic partner who can help them interpret the changes, identify and capitalise on commercial opportunities and close any gaps.  

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