The Brexit transition period officially ended in late December and the UK has thus gained full autonomy over its own data protection regulations. This shift has begged the question of whether data privacy, a highly important topic in the European Union, is still an important topic in the UK as well.
The answer is simple as sensitive and highly confidential data is linked to almost every business today’s highly digital world. Adherence to data privacy laws should remain a top priority for UK businesses to ensure that data is used respectfully and lawfully, and this has numerous benefits which range from astute risk management to building goodwill with customers.
In this piece we will dive into UK data privacy specifics and examine data privacy enforcement in the UK as well as why data privacy should be prioritised as an important issue post- Brexit and beyond.
What you need to know, in a nutshell
- The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) is the UK’s independent authority which ensures that data subjects can trust businesses to use their information fairly and securely, and it also levies fines against businesses that do not comply with UK GDPR
- Businesses in the UK still need to adhere to the UK GDPR for data protection, which is highly similar to the EU GDPR, the gold standard for data protection worldwide
- The Data Protection Act 2018 ensures data subjects are protected and holds businesses accountable in preventing data breaches and fraud
In this article
- What is the ICO?
- GDPR as the standard for data protection worldwide
- Freedom of Information Act
- The Data Protection Act
- The PECR and electronic communications
What is the ICO?
At the core, data protection ensures sensitive information is used fairly and responsibly. It is the job of the ICO to serve as the independent authority in the UK to regulate data protection and promote good data practices.
As the UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO is responsible for enforcing 11 pieces of legislation, including the UK GDPR. The ICO ensures businesses stay aware and prioritise data privacy best practices through the following measures:
- Regulating: The ICO regularly investigates organisations that have suffered data breaches in the past. If businesses are not complying with strict measures, the ICO might impose penalties and conduct regular audits.
- Reporting: Part of the ICO’s main job is to keep the public informed on the state of data protection in the UK, regularly publishing reports and updates to keep businesses informed about potential threats and about data operations in the UK. The ICO also maintains an active social presence, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
- Enforcement: Monetary penalties are imposed on organisations when they fail to comply with the UK’s data protection framework.
With an increased usage of digital technologies comes a greater risk of data breaches. The ICO’s independent role upholding information rights is key to providing order, guidance and transparency for data regulation within the UK. Businesses and organisations should take note of data security best practices because those who do not comply will ultimately face significant monetary penalties and damage to their reputation.
GDPR as the standard for data protection worldwide
GDPR still remains as a standard for data protection worldwide.
Following Brexit, an important detail to understand is that the UK GDPR still retains the key principles and obligations of the EU GDPR. Additionally, other privacy laws across the globe include similar principles and obligations in their provisions With growing public concern regarding data privacy, the UK GDPR works to hold organisations accountable for data privacy.
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Freedom of Information Act
This Freedom of Information Act allows public access to information held by public authorities. The act is enforced through the following:
- Public authorities must publish information about their activities
- Members of the public have the authority to request information held by these public authorities (including government departments, local authorities, etc.)
The Freedom of Information Act is important because it enforces openness and access to official information for the public to improve trust in government bodies and data privacy openness.
The next section will examine the Data Protection Act and why it’s important to data privacy in the UK
The Data Protection Act
In short, the Data Protection Act 2018(DPA) is the UK’s national implementation of the EU GDPR, and controls the usage of personal information by organisations, businesses and the government in the UK. Those who use personal data must abide by ‘data protection principles’ to ensure information is:
- Use fairly, lawfully and transparently
- kept no longer than is necessary
- handled appropriately
- and more
The DPA works to protect the integrity behind the data, involving businesses and organisations. The act makes sure that highly sensitive data is processed fairly and accurately. Those who do not comply with DPA measures may face significant fines and legal proceedings.
The DPA is vital to data privacy in the UK because it works to ensure subjects behind the data can hold modern technologies and businesses accountable and reduce the risk of fraud, identity theft and crime overall.
The PECR and electronic communications
The PECR (Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations) sits alongside the UK GDPR and the DPA, and sets out specific ePrivacy rights regarding electronic communications. PECR is derived from European law, and it incorporates the e-Privacy Directive (Directive 2002/58/EC). PECR is important because it covers specific rules for electronic communication within the UK, covering the following areas:
- Marketing and outreach by electronic means (such as email marketing)
- Curbing cookie use and technologies that track information about website visitors
- Public electronics communications service
- Privacy of customers using communications networks regarding traffic and location data (i.e. a telephone directory)
Under the PECR, consent is the default requirement for direct marketing communication by electronic means, such as email, SMS, fax and automated phone calls directed to natural individuals.
Consent is an important part of data privacy as it gives individuals the freedom and entitlement to provide their data and withdraw consent at any given time. PECR provides individuals specific privacy rights, as well as providing transparency and empowerment for individuals to decide who can use their data and when.
As UK organisations continue to navigate through the post-Brexit period, data privacy should remain a top priority in order to maintain their credibility, ensure a trustworthy relationship with customers and prevent breaches that hurt data subjects and businesses alike.
Abiding by the regulations enforced by the ICO will yield significant cost savings for organisations now and in the future, and overall will provide customers and data subjects a sense of transparency and trust.
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