ICYMI - 2023 Outlook for Digital Regulation: How do we get it right?
On 1 February, techUK hosted a virtual panel discussion taking a look at the busy parliamentary agenda ahead this year for digital regulation, which aims to the boost competition and innovation in the UK economy, while making it the safest place to be online, and manage personal data.
The panel also explored the role of the Digital Regulatory Cooperation Forum (DRCF), and the role it will play in supporting businesses to implement the new regime.
The panel included:
- Chi Onwurah, MP and Shadow Minister for BEIS
- Amy Jordan, Director of Technology Policy, Ofcom
- Vincenzo Rampulla, Principal Consultant, Gemserv
- Matthew Peake, Global Public Policy Director, Onfido
You can watch the full video here, or read our summary of the key insights below:
A summary of the main points raised by the panellists can be found below. You can also visit techUK’s Digital Regulation Hub, which brings together all thought leadership on how the Government should be approaching innovation enabling, and consumer friendly regulation across digital services.
Please note that the below is a high-level summary of the event, and readers are encouraged to watch the webinar to understand the full details of the discussion.
Balancing innovation and consumer trust
Chi Onwurah, MP opened the session by reflecting on her previous professional experience working in the technology sector, and the noted the lack of progress she has seen in the current Government’s actions to regulate the digital economy.
She acknowledged the opportunity and potential that digital and innovation can offer our economy and society, as well as the threats of the digital world, which can be exploited. She then reflected on the need for more robust scrutiny of the role and implications of technology in our lives, as well as an innovation-enabling, forward looking, 21st century legislative framework.
For Chi, balancing the benefits of technology, whilst acknowledging its potential harms is a political choice, and must be considered in legislation such as the Online Safety Bill, Competition Bill, the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, and upcoming AI regulation. Regulation and innovation can go hand-in-hand, but also be co-dependent because it can support competition, give consumers trust and drive innovation if done right.
She closed her remarks by touching on what a digital agenda could look like for the next Labour Government, which will look at how data can be opened up whilst ensuring consumer rights, upskilling the workforce, empowering SMEs, diffusing digital technologies across the public sector to deliver better services, and unlocking the power of the digital revolution in the interest of the many. Chi also referenced the Labour Industrial Strategy, which sets out priorities for the digital economy in more detail.
What does good look like for digital regulation?
Amy Jordan, Policy Director at Ofcom touched on the regulator’s three areas of focus in getting regulation right, which included: understanding how innovation operates in industry, promoting innovation, and adopting best practice to ensure regulators are working creatively and with openness.
Vincenzo Rampulla, Principal Consultant at Gemserv reflected on the comments made so far, and called for constructive digital regulation that can ripple out across the economy, in sectors such as energy. Part of getting regulation right is setting out a clear vision of what good looks like when it comes to implementation, to ensure that the full potential can be reaped for new pieces of legislation such as Smart Data.
Matt Peake, Global Public Policy Director at Onfido, set out his experience navigating the existing regulatory environment in the UK, and the high degree of uncertainty he experiences. He called for a consistent and coordinated approach to digital regulation to avoid a global patchwork of differing regimes. Matt also warned about the danger of legislation being conflated with political priorities and agendas, such as the Online Safety Bill and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.
Regulatory coordination is key
The DRCF was a common theme throughout the webinar. Amy talked about its current initiatives, such as its recently secured bid to the Regulators Pioneer Fund, to develop a multi-agency, one-stop shop for digital innovators who may need joined up advice from more than one regulator, which was welcomed by panellists.
The DRCF is also focussing on coherence between different regimes, such as joint statements on the interaction between online safety, competition, and data protection. Regulatory sandboxes are another area where the DRCF will be looking at opportunities for cross-collaboration.
Both Matt and Vincenzo supported the role of the DRCF but called for its resources and capacity to be bolstered, closer engagement with industry and a clear narrative for what 'good' looks like for businesses implementing the regime. In particular, Matt emphasised the need for the DRCF to engage with not only big players, but the broader ecosystem of start-ups, scaleups etc.
Vincenzo then commented on the need for a broader and longer-term agenda for the DRCF: what will its purpose be beyond the key upcoming legislative files, what will its resources look like and what will its relationship with Government be? He drew on Smart Data as an example, where enabling legislation is due to be set, but where regulatory coordination and cooperation will be vital in helping industry navigate cross-sector schemes which emerge as a result.
Panellists also touched on whether it might be useful to broaden the DRCF’s membership to other regulators, such the regulatory body which may oversee the development of digital verification services.
Industry requires certainty
The panellists then explored international approaches to regulation, comparing the more prescriptive approach to AI regulation emerging from the European Union (EU), with a more principles-based approach in the UK. Panellists agreed that a flexible, risk-based approach allows for more regulatory certainty that can enable innovation and keep at pace with it.
Asked by the audience on how much of a concern regulatory divergence with the EU should be for UK legislators, Matt answered by saying that decision-makers must consider what value divergences or changes will bring, what compliance requirements they will entail for businesses and what level of fragmentation will this create.
Amy added that the risk of regulatory fragmentation is something regulators are focussed on. In the context of the Online Safety Bill, Ofcom is working with countries like Australia, the USA and Ireland through the Online Safety Regulators Network to share experience, learnings and best practice.
The session closed on an optimistic note, with panellists agreeing that the UK has the opportunity and time to get digital regulation right, but cooperation, coordination and clarity will remain a priority.
techUK - Getting Regulation Right for a Digital Society
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