UK could overhaul GDPR in post-Brexit review of privacy rules

Revised laws could involve “less box-ticking”, but fundraisers have warned charities need a robust data protection regime

An overhaul of the GDPR could involve “less box-ticking”

The Digital Secretary has suggested the UK could move away from the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation now that the country has left the European Union. 

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said last week that, following Brexit, UK data laws could be reformed to involve “less box-ticking”. 

Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, has said the membership body would engage in the debate on any future changes to ensure charities’ voices were heard.

The GDPR was introduced by the EU in 2018, and became part of UK law as part of the Data Protection Act 2018. 

It established more stringent standards for how organisations use personal data than had previously been in force. As a result charities faced tighter rules about whether and how they could contact potential donors.

Dowden did not give any indication of how the rules might change or how the potential reform would affect charities specifically. 

He said: “Now that we have left the EU I’m determined to seize the opportunity by developing a world-leading data policy that will deliver a Brexit dividend for individuals and businesses across the UK.”

He said this would mean “reforming our own data laws so that they’re based on common sense, not box-ticking”. 

Dowden made his comments while announcing John Edwards, the current Privacy Commissioner in New Zealand, as the government’s preferred candidate to succeed Elizabeth Denham as the UK’s Information Commissioner. 

Dowden said he believed Edwards’ experience would enable him to ensure “data is used responsibly” to “pursue a new era of data-driven growth and innovation”. 

The introduction of the GDPR required many charities to overhaul their fundraising and data processing practices – but in 2019, the year after it came into effect, Gerald Oppenheim, the chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said he believed most charities had got to grips with and were respecting the new rules

Fluskey told Third Sector: “Charities and fundraising needs a robust data protection regime that properly safeguards supporters’ personal data while allowing organisations to fundraise in a responsible way. 

“We’d engage in any future consultation or review to ensure that view of charity fundraising is heard in any changes that may be considered, in particular on any proposals around direct marketing – which, as they apply now, are quite restrictive for fundraising communications such as thank you letters, or a review of the ‘soft opt-in’, which currently excludes donations.”

Fundraising consultant Sarah Goddard told Third Sector that after “so much charity time, money, resource, effort went into (and still goes into) making sure organisations were GDPR-compliant”, there was likely to be some anxiety in the sector over the prospect of having “go through something similar again, or know that that investment was so large for so little”.

In a statement, the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, agreed with Dowden that data-driven innovation “stands to bring enormous benefits to the UK economy and to our society”. 

But, she said: “The digital opportunity before us today will only be realised where people continue to trust their data will be used fairly and transparently, both here in the UK and when shared overseas.

“My office has supported valuable innovation while encouraging public trust in data use, particularly during the pandemic. We stand ready to provide our expert advice and insight as part of any future government consultation.”

She said Edwards would bring extraordinary breadth, international leadership and credibility to the role, if he were to be appointed.

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