On Wednesday this week the House of Commons debates the final stages of the Data Protection Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to introduce the new general data protection regulations [GDPR], giving people more power over how their data is used. These new rules have implications for businesses and organisations that hold personal data and if you have any concerns about whether you are ready for the GDPR, the best place to go for guidance is the Information Commissioner’s Office, which can be found online at ico.org.uk
The Data Protection Bill has also become central to two other topical issues, relating to the power of the major tech companies like Facebook, and the freedoms and responsibilities of the traditional media, like newspapers. Over the last six weeks we have become increasingly concerned about the amount of data that Facebook gathers, by recording details about how people interact with their website, and also other places they visit on the internet. The purpose of this data gathering, they say, is to improve the services they offer, and to make sure that the advertising users see on Facebook is the most relevant to their interests. However, I think people were surprised to know that Facebook also gathers data about non- users, and that if you have an android mobile phone, it keeps a record of your calls and texts. There is understandable concern as well that independent developers who create tools and games for people to use on Facebook gather user’s data, and that in some cases this has ended up in the hands of companies like the disgraced and now bankrupt political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica. I have been calling for the Information Commissioner to be given greater powers to investigate whether companies are misusing data or failing to delete it when requested to by a user. I’m pleased that the government shares my concerns and will be introducing these additional powers in the Data Protection Bill.
Many people increasingly get their news from sites like Facebook, rather than newspapers, TV or radio. Traditional media like these is regulated by Ofcom for broadcasters, and for most newspapers by their self-regulatory body, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). From 31st July this year, there will be a compulsory industry funded IPSO arbitration scheme for anyone wishing to make a complaint against a national newspaper. These systems may not be perfect, but they offer a form of complaint and redress that does not exist for the rest of the online media, which is largely completely unregulated. In this age of fake news and disinformation, we need our news media companies at local and national level to be as strong as possible, but many have found it hard to compete with much of their advertising revenue being lost to the internet companies. It is for this reason that I am against further amendments that have been proposed to the Data Protection Bill that could expose newspapers to much greater financial risks by giving Judges the discretionary power to award the court costs of a complainant against the papers, even if they won the case. If the amendment passes the only way to avoid this would be for the newspapers to accept regulation under a Royal Charter which was created by parliament and can be amended by the House of Commons. The press has refused to do this on principle, believing that it would undermine the concept of a free press.