Public Services > Central Government

Digital Economy Act becomes law

Neil Merrett Published 28 April 2017

Legislation among a number of laws passed through parliament before upcoming election; privacy campaigners argue data sharing concerns have passed unchanged


The Digital Economy Act, which sets out legal requirements on broadband provision and digital infrastructure, age restrictions for UK hosted pornographic material as well as controversial data sharing provisions for Whitehall departments, has this week been given Royal Assent.

The legislation is among of series of bills to have been approved by parliament in recent weeks ahead of the June 8 General Election.  It finalises a national strategy for digital transformation that includes sharing of data to support public services. 

These provisions have faced criticisms from opposition MPs and privacy groups over concerns they may undermine privacy fears over use of confidential information.

Privacy groups have argued that these concerns have not been addressed in the final act, despite fears being raised in parliament about giving government "untrammelled powers" to share data broad amounts of personal information for non-specific purposes.

Welcoming the passing of the act, Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, said the law was designed to ensure a “more connected and stronger economy”.

“The act will enable major improvements in broadband rollout, better support for consumers, better protection for children on the Internet, and further transformation of government services,” he said.

Key provisions of the law include providing a legal right to citizens to request fast broadband connections, as well as providing civil penalties and ISP level blocking for online providers of pornographic materials that do not perform age verification checks. Other provisions include improving costs for new infrastructure and simplified planning rules.

Phil Booth, coordinator of the MedConfidential pressure group, warned that the push to pass the legislation through parliament before the General Election had failed to address wider concerns about how citizen information can be shared.

"Passing of the bill means that the government, without any public debate, will be able to share your medical records with departments and commercial partners simply because a civil servant thinks it may make their job easier,” he said.

“Patients should know how their medical records are used, yet this Bill makes secret copying easy.”

As the bill was facing committee scrutiny by parliament earlier this year, MedConfidential warned that despite denials that health data will be affected, the broad nature of the act’s data sharing clause could radically change how public sector-held information can be copied and used in the public sector.

In allowing ministers to become effective data controllers of information they receive by copying from other departments, the group argued that a failure to require a clear purpose and end point for each specific transaction would ensure little to no mapping of where data was travelling across government and beyond.

These concerns are not understood to have been addressed in the approved legislation.

Related articles:

Digital tax regulations delayed until next parliament

Privacy groups urge dropping entire Digital Economy Bill data clause

Civil servants under fire over Digital Economy Bill drafting as Parliamentary scrutiny bites

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