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Bill of Data Rights – Speech in committee stage of the Data Protection Bill

Let me start with the argument for a Bill of Data Rights. Every so often we have to try to democratise both progress and protections. In this country we are the great writers of rights—we have been doing it since Magna Carta. Over the years, the universal declaration of human rights, the UN convention on the rights of the child, the charter of fundamental rights, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010 and, indeed, the original Data Protection Act have all been good examples of how good and wise people in this country have enshrined into charters and other legal instruments a set of rights that we can all enjoy, that give us all a set of protections, and that help us to democratise progress. In the early days, when we were writing great charters such as Magna Carta, the threats to ordinary citizens were from bad monarchs. We needed provisions such as Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and the Glorious Revolution to protect the citizens of this country and their wealth from bad monarchs who would seek to steal things that were not theirs. What we now confront is not a bad monarch—we have a fantastic monarch—but the risk of bad big tech. The big five companies now have a combined market capitalisation of some $2.5 trillion, and they are up to all sorts of things. They are often protected by the first amendment in the United States, but their business—their bad business—often hurts the data rights of citizens in this country. That is why we need this new bill of rights. We have to accept that we are on the cusp of radical and rapid changes in legislation and regulation. I often make the point that over the course of the 19th century there was not one Factory Act but 17 Factory Acts. We had to legislate and re-legislate as technology, economics and methods of production changed, and that is the point we are at now. We will have to regulate and re-regulate, and legislate and re-legislate, again and again over the decades to come. Therefore, if we are to give people any certainty about what the new laws will look like, it would be a sensible precaution if we were to write down now the principles that will form the North Star that guides us as we seek to keep legislation up to date. The Government’s proposal of a digital charter is a bit like the cones hotline approach to public service reform. The contents of the charter are not really rights but guidelines. There are no good methods of redress or transparency. Frankly, if we try to introduce rights and redress mechanisms in that way, they will basically fail and will not lead to any kind of change. That is why we urge the Government to follow the approach that we are setting out. I put on record my profound thanks to Baroness Kidron and the 5Rights movement. Her work forms the basis of the bill of rights we are proposing to the House: the right to remove data, as enshrined in the GDPR—that right is very important to children—the right to know; the right to safety and support; the right to informed and conscious use; and the right to digital literacy. Those are the kinds of rights we should now be talking about as the rights of every child and every citizen. Rights are sometimes scattered through thousands and thousands of pages of legislation, which is where we are on data protection today. That is why from time to time, as a country, we decide to make bold declaratory statements of what principles should guide us. These are methods of simplification and consolidation, and we are pretty good at that in this country. When we press our proposal to enable the creation of such a bill of rights to a Division a little later, we hope that it will be the call that the Government need to begin the process of consultation, thought, argument and debate about the digital rights that we need in this century and what they need to look like. Rights should not be imposed from the top down; they should come from the grassroots up, and the process of conversation and consultation is long overdue. To help the Government, we will accelerate that debate during this year.


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