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The UK’s data protection reforms: explaining and mapping the proposals

Thu Oct 28, 2021
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We explain and summarise the UK government’s data reform proposals to help others give their views and evidence


In September the UK government published ‘Data: a new direction’ – a set of draft reforms to the UK’s data protection regime, currently out for consultation until 19 November 2021. The consultation is open to anyone to submit their views or their evidence.

It’s not often a country changes its laws on data, and the proposals are wide-ranging – covering topics such as artificial intelligence (AI) ethics and the future of the ICO. Any change to data protection law will impact organisations and communities across the UK, and potentially further. Consultation responses from these organisations and communities will strengthen the evidence base considered by the government, and can help determine the future of these reforms. So it is vital that these proposals are engaged with widely.

The government’s arguments and proposals have been published in a consultation document of five chapters, and an annex with an economic impact analysis paper. It’s a long and complex document, coming to 174 pages with over 70 proposals and over 180 consultation questions. So we have created a set of summaries of the arguments and proposals, as well as a spreadsheet that maps each proposal and the consultation questions about it, to help others plan their response to the consultation.

Summarising the arguments and proposals

Our summary of the government’s arguments and proposals in ‘Data: a new direction’ can be downloaded here

For each chapter summary, we have highlighted topic-specific Open Data Institute (ODI) resources where we think our evidence base can offer a constructive critical or creative perspective on the questions. But our summary of the consultation chapters and economic impact analysis paper is neither an endorsement of the arguments and proposals put forward by the UK government, nor a critique of them.

For each chapter summary we have also highlighted relevant government documents – such as policy papers and parliamentary reports – to contextualise the proposals within the government’s wider strategic objectives. Some other documents (such as reports from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office) are also included to help readers understand ‘lessons learned’ from previous government data policies.

Mapping the proposals and questions

Our summary of the government’s proposals and consultation questions in ‘Data: a new direction’ can be downloaded as a spreadsheet here

We have created a tab for each chapter of the consultation and for the economic impact analysis paper. On each tab, the proposals in that chapter are listed in a column on the left and the questions about those proposals listed beside them in a column on the right.

In UK policymaking, a green paper typically sets out for discussion proposals which are still at a formative stage; while a white paper is typically issued by the government as a statement of policy and a proposal for legislative change. The proposals in ‘Data: a new direction’ have been described as ‘minty’ – a combination of green paper stage and white paper stage. This means that some of the proposals are fairly high-level with quite open-ended questions, and some of the proposals are fairly developed with focussed questions.

The ODI’s position

Our thinking is guided by our theory of change for how those who steward data, and those who create information from this data, can act in ways that lead to the best social and economic outcomes for everyone. Our high-level position is informed by our manifesto, which outlines the elements of open and trustworthy data ecosystems: infrastructure, capability, innovation, equity, ethics and engagement.

We intend to submit a response to the consultation and are formulating our position on the proposed reforms through research, analysis, and convening expert discussion meetings to explore the issues: please see our project website for updates on how we’re engaging. You can also reach us on [email protected] or @ODIHQ on Twitter.