2023 is ramping up to be a period of protectionism and regulation. The US and EU have kicked off the year in a standoff over green tech investment and all countries are competing to ensure that their economies recover from the pandemic and the current economic downturn.
This means supporting home-grown tech expertise, with the US and China competing for superiority in AI, quantum computing, and other future-facing industries. Meanwhile, the EU’s play is to be a global leader in regulation. For example, the AI Act would be the first to impose a specified duty based on risk – essentially creating the standard by which they hope much of the world would follow.
So where does this leave the UK?
Post-Brexit Britain is positioned as an innovative free market, or digital policy testbed, strategically situated and ready to regulate differently. The political turmoil of recent years and months has held this agenda back; however, we are now seeing movement reflecting global priorities with the UK leading on digital policies that will define our society for decades.
The is due to complete its journey to become law before the end of this Parliamentary session in November. While the bill has bounced back and forth between imposing stricter duties for platforms over the content both children and adults can access and freedom of expression arguments, child safety remains the top priority.
Over the coming months, there will continue to be amendments to the bill’s details and clarity over which services will fall into specific regulatory categories. The UK was a leader in approaching online safety as a duty of care that platforms have towards users similar to the DSA that came into force last year and differing from Section 230, which is now notably being revisited.
While everyone will watch for the bill’s final version, the forward-thinking will also pay attention to Labour’s recent announcement that they will strengthen this policy when in office, with the intent to reinstate provisions outlining platform responsibilities over so-called “legal but harmful” material.
Under technophile Prime Minister Sunak, the is back on the table. This bill was expected to be introduced in February, although it’s now rumoured that its starting date has been pushed back.
The bill is designed to strengthen the Competition and Markets Authority’s ability to act by establishing the Digital Markets Unit (DMU) and empowering them with a pro-competitive duty.
The key here will be exactly what levers the bill gives the DMU to draw on and how they designate “strategic market status”. We’re already seeing politicos arguing over whether these measures will help the UK become the new “Silicon Valley” by driving innovation. While the bill continues to be debated, these conversations will likely cover consumer protection and privacy.
The potential effectiveness of this intervention to positively impact the UK economy and consumers is what will move this up or down the Government’s agenda. Advocates of greater digital regulation know that this bill needs to pass this year, as the backing for what could be seen as a niche issue is the strongest we are likely to see in coming years.
The anticipated legislative split from the EU is coming to fruition, with the looking to create a “British data protection system” while keeping the adequacy agreement. This is meant to “cut red-tape” and be more business and consumer-friendly.
The main benefit policymakers want to see is the increased use of smart data and safe data-sharing systems within industry to bolster British business. This could be a moderate approach – between GDPR and the USA, which has yet to define a standard system.
Legislation will be revised under Sunak, and we’re yet to see a timetable for this to continue through Parliament.
In short, the UK Government’s Digital Department, which is responsible for Culture, Media and Sport, has a busy year ahead. And one which is crucial for the digital agenda.
Beyond the legislative activity outlined above, we’re also in manifesto season. In preparation for the General Election, parties will use this year to define their policies. In this critical year before speculation takes over, the Government has the chance to pass bills which are high on its own priority list before turning focus over to vote-winning activities.
In the legislative agenda above, we see evidence that policymakers are starting to catch up with technology. Tech will be more regulated in the future and progress on these key areas will set the direction of travel. The details decided in 2023 are set to start defining the next generation of digital policy.