Lord Holmes: The general public must know their rights and responsibilities when it comes to data
What could a social contract based on data for public good look like, asks Lord Holmes.
Today I’m asking the Government what action they are taking, or plan to take, to ensure that people are aware of their rights and obligations in respect of data protection and privacy.
Data is increasingly described as the fuel driving the 4th IR, just like the oil and electricity of previous industrial revolutions, but unlike those earlier examples we, the people, are producing the data. Huge tech giants have users and customers, and as users our data is ‘farmed’ and monetised then sold to customers. Most of us understand and accept this arrangement as beneficial to us and relatively benign, in exchange for information about our shopping habits we receive (sometimes useful) targeted adverts. But the potential of data, particularly as fuel for Artificial Intelligence, extends far beyond these commercial applications. Already, insurance companies the police and other organisations are watching and using our data in ways that are less well known or understood. Just one statistic helps underline the exponential ‘everythingness’ of this; 90% of all data was created in the last two years.
Data is a precious resource. Of course, as with anything, all that glistens is not gold, but there is gold, diamonds and doubloons a plenty if we get this right. Imagine, a health service transformed through insightful, responsible use of data, in law enforcement, big data could become our best detective and if we no longer fancy horse in the lasagne, data has a role. We can transform our public services and be at the forefront of global standards, it’s down to us. Everything and nothing changes. We are experiencing an extraordinary pace of change, all driven by data but we still seek truths, reliability and connection. Thus, we must have conversations about data, who owns it, what rights we have and what obligations. What could a social contract based on data for public good look like?
Progress is being made in terms of legislation governing data; from May this year the GDPR will come into force and the Data Protection Bill is currently making its way through parliament. Many colleagues have done excellent work on the Bill and I am heartened that the government has accepted an amendment to ensure a more robust data regime for children following outstanding cross party working led by Baroness Kidron. Also in the Lords, Baroness Lane-Fox tabled an excellent debate in September calling for improved digital awareness.
It is beholden upon us as legislators to determine how we regulate, how we transact, how we thrive in the Fourth industrial revolution. In doing this we must protect citizen’s rights and responsibilities and most of all ask what society we want to be. I welcome the Governments work to develop a digital charter and establish a centre for data ethics and innovation. These are excellent initiatives but we must keep up the pressure particularly in communicating this work to the general public. We cannot leave it to the tech giants to determine what is best for us; as we saw recently with Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebooks recent changes were made “in order to amplify the good”.
In conclusion, we have everything we need and more to engage in the most marvellous of public debates, like that Baroness Warnock so beautifully achieved with reproductive advances decades ago. We are born human, we have the ethics, we can plot the innovation all rooted in transparency and trust, commerciality and care and an unyielding focus on proportionality and purpose putting data sharing at the heart of a new 21st Century social contract.
Lord Holmes is a Conservative peer in the House of Lords and is a member of the Artificial Intelligence Select Committee and last year published a paper on “Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good: leadership, collaboration and innovation."