Changes to data protection laws to unlock post-Brexit opportunity

Common sense changes to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will safeguard the public, prevent fraud, and unlock post-Brexit opportunities

Common sense changes have been tabled to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

  • Data Protection and Digital Information Bill amendments tabled to further improve data security, bolster national security and prevent fraud
  • changes include better use of data to identify fraud - tackling benefits cheats intent on ripping off the taxpayer
  • new measures also brought forward around preserving the data of deceased children, supporting bereaved families and coroner investigations

A raft of common-sense changes to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill will build an innovative data protection regime in the UK, crack down on benefit fraud cheats, and allow the country to realise new post-Brexit freedoms while delivering new economic opportunities to the tune of £5.9 billion.

The changes include new powers to require data from third parties, particularly banks and financial organisations, to help the UK government reduce benefit fraud and save the taxpayer up to £600 million over the next five years. Currently, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can only undertake fraud checks on a claimant on an individual basis, where there is already a suspicion of fraud. 

The new proposals would allow regular checks to be carried out on the bank accounts held by benefit claimants to spot increases in their savings which push them over the benefit eligibility threshold, or when people send more time overseas than the benefit rules allow for. This will help identify fraud take action more quickly. To make sure that privacy concerns are at the heart of these new measures, only a minimum amount of data will be accessed and only in instances which show a potential risk of fraud and error.

Another measure offers vital reassurance and support to families as they grieve the loss of a child. In cases where a child has died through suicide, a proposed ‘data preservation process’ would require social media companies to keep any relevant personal data which could then be used in subsequent investigations or inquests.

Current rules mean that social media companies aren’t obliged to hold onto this data for longer than is needed, meaning that data which could prove vital to coroner investigations could be deleted as part of a platform’s routine maintenance. The change tabled today represents an important step for families coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, and takes further steps to help ensure harmful content has no place online.

The use of biometric data, such as fingerprints, to strengthen national security is also covered by the amendments, with the ability of Counter Terrorism Police to hold onto the biometrics of individuals who pose a potential threat, and which are supplied by organisations such as Interpol, being bolstered.

This would see officers being able to retain biometric data for as long as an INTERPOL notice is in force, matching this process up with INTERPOL’s own retention rules. The amendments will also ensure that where an individual has a foreign conviction, their biometrics will be able to be retained indefinitely in the same way as is already possible for individuals with UK convictions – this is particularly important where foreign nationals may have existing convictions for serious offences, including terrorist offences.

Maintaining the UK’s high standards of data protection is central to both the wider Bill and the proposed amendments which have been laid today.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, said:

"Britain has seized a key Brexit opportunity – boosting small businesses, protecting consumers and cracking down on criminal enterprises like nuisance calling and benefit fraud.

"These changes protect our privacy and data while also injecting common sense into the system - whether it is cracking down on cookies, scrapping pointless paperwork which stifles productivity, tackling benefit fraud or making it easier to protect our citizens from criminals.

"These changes help to establish the UK as a world-leading data economy; one that puts consumers and businesses at the centre and removes the ‘one-size-fits-all’ barriers that have held many British businesses back."

The Bill’s focus is to create an innovative and flexible data protection regime which will maintain the UK’s high standards of data protection, streamline processes for companies, strengthen national security, and support grieving families. Making it easier to use personal data which will improve efficiency, lead to better public services, and enable new innovations across science, innovation, and technology. 

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP, said:

"These new powers send a very clear message to benefit fraudsters – we won’t stand for it. These people are taking the taxpayer for a ride and it is right that we do all we can to bring them to justice.

"These powers will be used proportionately, ensuring claimants’ data is safely protected while rooting out fraudsters at the earliest possible opportunity."

Home Secretary, James Cleverly, said:

"My priority is to continue cutting crime and ensuring the public is protected from security threats. Law enforcement and our security partners must have access to the best possible tools and data, including biometrics, to continue to keep us safe.

"This Bill will improve the efficiency of data protection for our security and policing partners—encouraging better use of personal information and ensuring appropriate safeguards for privacy."

The amendments tabled today show the practical steps being taken by the UK government to improve how the nation uses and accesses personal data, capitalising on the UK’s departure from the European Union to introduce measures which will protect the public purse, strengthen national security, and offer important support to grieving families.

These amendments will also help the Bill realise its ambition of bulldozing burdens for businesses and removing restrictions for researchers, ensuring new advances in science, innovation, and technology can be fuelled by more practical ways to access data.

Further Information

Full list of amendments tabled can be found here.

These amendments will be considered by the House of Commons at Report next Wednesday (29 November).

Further information on the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill can be found here.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
Department for Work and Pensions
Home Office
The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP
The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP
The Rt Hon Mel Stride MP