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DCMS sets out plans for National Data Strategy

A new centre for data ethics and innovations will drive UK government policy making regarding data sharing and use of public data

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has unveiled plans to boost to UK’s data strategy with a new centre for data ethics and excellence, which will be headed by Roger Taylor, cofounder of Dr Foster, a provider of healthcare data management and analysis.

The announcement of the centre is DCMS’s first major data initiative since it took over responsibility of data policy and governance from the Government Digital Service (GDS).

Digital secretary Matt Hancock said: “With Roger Taylor at the helm of our new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, plans to train the top-tier tech experts of tomorrow and a commitment to develop a new National Data Strategy, we will continue to be Europe’s digital dynamo and the place to start and grow a digital business.”

The DCMS said the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is core to the Government’s Digital Charter and desire for the UK to lead the world in innovation-friendly regulation that boosts the tech sector and provides stability for businesses.

“I’m looking forward to setting up the centre and working with the board to ensure that powerful data-driven technologies are deployed in the interests of society,” said Taylor, who will chair the new centre.

“The centre has an ambitious and important role to play in making sure we harness the full benefits of data and artificial intelligence, and I am pleased to play a central role in shaping its work during this early and critical phase.”

Among the roles of the centre is to promote safe, ethical and innovative use of data. It will put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to seize the opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI), DCMS said.

Hancock has been asked by the prime minister to produce a National Data Strategy, which the DCMS said would be used to unlock the power of data in the UK economy and government, while building public confidence in its use.

The DCMS has also launched a Data Ethics Framework, which it said will be used to make sure the UK government sets the highest global standards for how public servants should use data appropriately and provide first-rate evidence for policy and service design.

Michael Veale, researcher in responsible public sector machine learning at University College London, said: “Aligning advanced government data science with public values can’t be done with a simple recipe or static ‘best practice’. It needs a creative, inclusive and rigorous process.

“To my knowledge, the UK government Data Ethics Framework is the first document in the world which places this at its heart, drawing together design principles, core questions and caveats, and the key social, legal and technical dimensions – all within the realistic contexts of those designing, maintaining and overseeing systems on the ground.

“The priorities of data science within the public sector are so different from other domains that knowledge of how to do this well has to be invented in-house, not imported. The framework connects issues ranging from procurement and reproducibility, to algorithmic fairness and accountability, and is the document all government data scientists should be given on day one.”

Julian David, CEO of techUK, said: “The centre has a crucial role to play in creating the right environment for industry, academia, civil society, regulators and policy makers to consider how best to ensure ethical decision making is at the core of all implementations of AI.”

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