techUK Policy Pulse | Your weekly update on digital and tech policy

Welcome to this week’s Policy Pulse, I’m Giles, filling in again for Vinous who was last seen running towards the Eurostar shaking visibly with rage and muttering something about “the Malthouse Compromise”. I’m sure she’ll be back next week.

Yes, this week has again been dominated by Brexit. With headlines full of the now famous, if possibly short-lived, Malthouse Compromise, and enough amendments named after their authors - Cooper, Brady and Grieve et al – to make an entire new phonic alphabet.

The upshot of all the excitement is that the Government now has a new plan supported by its backbenches and the DUP, to get the EU to remove the Northern Irish backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement. The only thing standing in their way is the swift, blunt and unanimous rejection of this latest idea by almost every European Premier, Official and journalist. 

Meanwhile Parliament has said it doesn’t want No Deal…but chosen not to actually stop it just yet, accepting plans to hold another ‘meaningful vote’ on 14 February, in a can-kicking exercise that has now been repeated more often than some episodes of Midsummer Murders.

All of this leaves businesses still needing to plan for the worst-case scenario of a No Deal. Yours truly was up in front of the Science and Technology Select Committee earlier in the week to talk about some of the challenges No Deal holds for tech firms. You can watch the full session here, and read a write up of it.

Speaking of the Science and Tech Committee, this week they have also published their report on the impact of social media and screen use on young people. While there are some sensible proposals in the report, such as compulsory PSHE in schools, techUK is concerned that ideas around a broad duty of care on social media companies isn’t yet developed enough to avoid creating serious risk to speech online. The report comes on the same day that Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced plans for new Knife Crime Prevention Orders that include a ban on using social media for those involved in knife violence.

Elsewhere in tech regulation, the new Head of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, was in Brussels talking about the need for businesses and policy makers to work together to set the new rules for internet companies. Who knows where this Nick fellow has come from, but it looks like he could go far.

It’s not all about regulation this week. techUK was pleased to see Business Secretary, Greg Clark, announce £100 million of new investment in cyber security R&D to help support the design and development of new hardware and ensure the new smart internet connected devices are secure.

DCMS Secretary, Jeremy Wright, also used this week to announce £30 million to spark the next wave in tech innovation to help combat the illegal wildlife trade. The move comes as part of a renewed focus by the Secretary of State on the ability of tech to improve all our lives and provide real social goods to society.

And finally, in a historic step, the end of last week saw the commencement of negotiations on e-commerce at the WTO, with 75 countries signing up to look at new global rules on issues such as free flow of data, data localisation, and technology transfer. With these talks having stalled since 1998 this is a very welcome step, though those hoping to rely on WTO rules post 29 March shouldn’t hold their breath!

techUK news and events

Wednesday will see the launch of techUK’s Digital ID paper at a meeting of the Digital Identity APPG in the Houses of Parliament. The paper highlights the need for the tech sector to develop an interoperable framework for the use of digital identities across both the public and private sector.

This week saw the latest meeting of the UK-India Tech Forum, an opportunity to bring together business and stakeholders building trade links between the UK and India. Next week will also see the next meeting of the UK-Japan tech forum.

And if you’re lost for something to do this Saturday, we are hosting our second type 1 diabetes and tech event, which looks at the potential of tech to transform how people manage the condition.

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