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Select Committee highlights Brexit effect on roaming and data protection

House of Commons Select Committee report sets out Brexit challenges such as uncertainty around regulations, data protection, mobile roaming charges and skills

Brexit could affect the UK’s ability to transfer data across borders and lead to increased mobile roaming costs for consumers going abroad, according to a report.

A House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee report on the potential impact of Brexit has called for clarity on regulations and rules that will affect the sectors once Britain leaves the EU.

One of the biggest Brexit effects will be leaving the single market, the report said, adding that some argue that leaving the EU means the country can create new regulations, better tailored towards the UK’s digital economy.

“Whether opportunities present themselves, however, will depend on the detail of the UK’s final agreement with the EU. We found little appetite amongst witnesses to surrender the benefits of a uniform and open European marketplace and regulatory system,” the report said.

“Outside the US technology giants, the UK has the most developed digital technology sector of all the members of the EU. It has had, therefore, the most to gain from the developing digital single market – and has, therefore, potentially the most to lose in the future, should we not negotiate mutually beneficial arrangements following Brexit.”

Return of mobile roaming charges

One of the key issues with leaving the single market is mobile roaming. In June 2017, the EU abolished mobile tariff surcharges for customers using their mobiles abroad. The report said that ending roaming charges was of “significant benefit” to UK consumers, but is now put at risk by Brexit.

Once Brexit comes into effect, the UK government won’t be able to put in domestic legislation to ensure UK mobile operators are “protected by the EU cap on wholesale roaming charges due to the reciprocal, cross-border nature of the measure”.

“If the UK ceases to be protected by the wholesale roaming cap, EU-based mobile operators will be free to apply higher charges to UK operators when their customers use EU networks,” the report said.

“Some mobile operators have already indicated that, if the wholesale roaming cap ceased to apply to them, they would be unable to continue to provide surcharge-free mobile roaming services to their customers, meaning the return of roaming surcharges.”

Limits on cross-border data transfers

Another key issue is transferring data across borders, something which is key to many UK technology businesses so the current uncertainty is cause for concern.

“It is important to recognise that Brexit creates a potential risk that the UK’s ability to transfer data across borders will be limited,” the report said.

“The government said that the risk will be mitigated during the post-March 2019 implementation phase of the final UK-EU deal as this will allow for an adequacy agreement to be developed. We believe it is essential that the transition period is constructed to maintain existing levels of data transfer, and that an adequacy agreement is reached at the earliest opportunity within the transition phase.”

Chair of the DCMS Committee, Damian Collins, said the government needed to rise to the Brexit challenges.

“An honest assessment of likely outcomes of the Brexit negotiations – whether regarding regulatory equivalence or divergence, the workforce or the effects of losing direct EU funding – is needed from the government,” he said.

“It is essential we get clarity of proposed revised immigration rules and reliable data about possible skills gaps.”

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be implemented in UK law via the Data Protection Bill in May 2018. The UK data protection bill varies slightly from the GDPR, however.

“The bill is a complete data protection system, so as well as governing general data covered by GDPR, it covers all other general data, law enforcement data and national security data,” said DCMS.

“Furthermore, the bill exercises a number of agreed modifications to the GDPR to make it work for the benefit of the UK in areas such as academic research, financial services and child protection.”

In a speech yesterday (24 January), DCMS secretary of state Matt Hancock said the government was strengthening the UK’s data protection law to make it fit for the digital age.

The new legislation is aimed at giving UK citizens more control over their own data, he said, as well as supporting innovative businesses to maximise the potential benefits of increasing use of data in the digital economy. 

The government report also called for reliable data about the potential skills gap caused by Brexit, particularly as there is already a skills shortage in the UK. It also called on the government to overhaul the visa process for non-EU citizens.

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