Data Protection – would we benefit from post-Brexit deregulation?

By Matt Beckett, Managing Director, CSL

The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, recently commented that negotiations around the UK’s ongoing data adequacy status are going more slowly than they had thought.  


One of the issues is the large-scale collection of data by the UK’s intelligence services, which the European Court of Justice has determined to be unjustifiable within a democracy.  Without an adequacy decision(where the EU decides the UK’s data protection laws are sufficiently aligned with theirs), sharing and processing data with the EU becomes more complicated, especially given the EU’s recent decision to annul Privacy Shield – implying that this model will not work for the UK either. 

The UK government published its National Data Strategy policy paper last month.  The overall gist of this document is that data is an opportunity for economic growth, and an area where the UK can set itself up to be a world leader.

For us in the health and data sectors, there is one very interesting paragraph –

“[However], barriers to accessing data represent a significant limitation on research; these range from legal barriers (real and perceived) through to cultural blockers and risk aversion. These barriers must be addressed if the UK is to remain at the forefront of science and research. For example, recent research into data use by the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry identified a number of systemic barriers that limit access to data.”

It will be interesting to see where we decide to place ourselves as a nation after the transition period.  Aligned with Europe, where the rights of the data subject are paramount, or more aligned with the US, where a series of state laws tend to focus on data security and less on privacy. 

If we do not get an adequacy decision from the EU, the government may well be tempted to move “further west” in its thinking.  We know that the PM’s advisor, Dominic Cummings is no fan of recent changes to data protection law, writing in his blog in 2018 “The GDPR legislation is horrific. One of the many advantages of Brexit is we will soon be able to bin such idiotic laws”. 

But trust in data analytics companies is already very low, with a recent GRBN Trust survey finding only 18% of respondents trusted data analytics. It is likely that stories that made the press in 2019 about the malign influence of data companies in elections, as well as recent controversy over the use of data by household names has contributed to this. 

We could all do with a little less paperwork in our lives, but we need to be careful not to assume that deregulation will necessarily mean more opportunities.  Ultimately, I believe, it is incumbent on industry to demonstrate to the public that they can benefit from the way their data is used.  Thereby ensuring that they are willing and incentivised to share accurate and complete information. 

Take the health data space for instance.  If pubic health data can be used for any purpose deemed to provide an economic advantage to companies, and given the low levels of trust evidenced above, it is likely that increasing numbers of patients will opt out of sharing their data on principle.  This renders the resource less useful. 

If the industry can demonstrate how advances in health outcomes have been made possible by using data responsibly, patients are more likely to see the value in their data being shared – there is something in it for them. 

We’ll soon see how this plays out, but I can’t help but hope we don’t end up in a race to the bottom when it comes to data protection. 

If you would like to discuss further, give us a call on 01483 528302 or email


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