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Government sets out plan for digital regulation

The plan aims to make the UK a “global leader” in digital regulation, boost economic growth and maximise the potential of digital technology

The government has published a plan to reduce red tape and “confusing policy”, making it easier to drive digital innovation in the UK.

The Plan for digital regulation aims to boost the country’s economic growth through creating “pro-innovation regulation”, making it easier for businesses to drive new ideas forward.

The plan, which was published today (6 July), sets out three guiding principles to be followed by policymakers, including actively promoting innovation wherever they can by removing “unnecessary regulation and burden”, and taking a non-regulatory approach where possible.

“Digital businesses are operating in many cases without appropriate guardrails - the existing rules and norms which have guided business activity were in many cases not designed for modern technologies and business models,” the plan said.

“Government therefore needs to work with companies to put these guardrails in place, in order to give clarity and certainty to businesses and consumers alike.

“Digital technologies and business models also disrupt established rules and norms because they combine distinct features - such as powerful data processing capabilities, speed of innovation and growth, horizontal integration, and businesses starting and scaling quickly.”

It also includes achieving forward-looking and coherent outcomes, ensuring regulation complements, rather than contradicts, current legislation, and calls on policymakers to take a global view of innovation, considering the “international dynamics” of planned regulation.

Commenting on the plan, digital secretary Oliver Dowden said that how the government governs digital technologies “is one of the most pressing issues of our age”.

“Today we are setting out a pro-growth vision to shape the future,” he said. “Our principles-based approach will ensure innovation is embedded in any new regulation, and we will look to reduce red tape to enable our vibrant tech sector to thrive.”

The government is keen to work with industry on supporting a streamlined regulatory landscape, including how to best improve information sharing between regulators to reduce duplication, and wants views on how to best do this from industry, academia, civil society and the public.

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The government is also working closely with the recently established Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) to ensure a joined-up approach to regulation.

“Our vision is to drive prosperity through our regulation of digital technologies, while minimising harms to the economy, security and society,” the plan said.

TechUK CEO Julian David said creating a digital regulation framework focused on innovation is a “global challenge”. “If the UK can get this right, we can drive discussions at the international level and build on our reputation as a leading digital economy,” he said. “The Plan for Digital Regulation is a strong start and shows the government’s commitment to creating a coordinated, proportionate and innovation-focused regulatory system. 

“We look forward to working with the government in making this plan a reality by building a partnership with the sector to dig into the detail and turn these strong core principles into a forward-looking framework that reinforces the UK’s position as a top-tier destination for technology companies.”

Ahead of the recent G7 Summit in Cornwall, the G7 countries and the European Union (EU) signed an agreement outlining their joint agenda for digital and technology, which includes improving online safety, developing a more collaborative regulatory approach, and promoting the free flow of data across borders.

As part of their efforts to establish a more collaborative regulatory framework, the ministers said they would work together through existing international and multilateral forums to find coherent and complementary ways of encouraging competition and supporting innovation.

“This plan marks the beginning of a new chapter for digital regulation across the whole of government. We will continue this conversation on how, why and when we regulate digital technologies,” it said.

The publication of the plan comes ahead of the introduction of the Online Safety Bill, which is being introduced into parliament. The proposed law, formerly known as the Online Harms Bill, seeks to promote safety online by making internet companies and service providers more accountable for the content shared by users on their platforms.

However, the bill has received criticism from members of the newly established “Legal to say, legal to type” campaign group have criticised the Bill as it currently stands for ceding too much power over UK citizens’ freedom of speech to Silicon Valley.

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