It’s that time again. Time to wake up a poor, 91 year old woman and force her to get dressed up and read out a bunch of proposed laws in front of hundreds of old people wearing ermine robes. Yep, this morning was the State Opening of Parliament, and a chance for Theresa May to outline what she plans to do for the next two years… you know, assuming she isn’t forced to resign or call another election.
Now we know what you’re thinking: yes, having a separate car to transport the crown is pretty stupid. But we know what you’re also thinking: what plans do the government have for tech? Read on to find out.
Data Protection Bill
Her Maj said that there will be “A new law will ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data” - and this is the Data Protection Bill, and if it passes will be the first major update to data protection laws since 1998 - which is an epoch in tech terms.
The government’s briefing document points out that the law will include a provision that will force social media companies to delete data held on kids once they hit 18 and that it will “cement the UK’s position at the forefront of technological innovation, international data sharing and protection of personal data”.
That’s right - the government that wanted to break encryption is now worried about protecting your data.
But there’s a potentially even greater irony too. The other intention of the bill will be to implement the General Data Protection Regulation - or GDPR. This is a new European law that will tighten up data protection across the entire European Union. And if Britain wants to continue trading and interacting with Europe after Brexit, we need to get in line and continue to play ball too, as the GDPR covers all data in the EU.
What was that about “take back control”, again?
The Queen said that a “new digital charter” will ensure that the UK is the “safest place to be online”.
Essentially, it sounds as though the internet is going to get a lot more regulated.
The briefing document says that:
“We will work with technology companies, charities, communities and international partners to develop the Charter; and we will make sure it is underpinned by an effective regulatory framework.”
And also that:
“We strongly support a free and open internet. But, as in the offline world, freedoms online must be balanced with protections to ensure citizens are protected from the potential harms of the digital world. “
Yeah, there’s always a “But”.
Obviously the government are couching this with intentions that it is hard to disagree with: Stopping terrorists, protecting kids, etc. But one downside of this could be that it could hand sweeping new powers to the government and the big tech companies to determine what we get to see online.
Responding to the speech, Jim Killock, who is executive director of the Open Rights Group, which campaigns for digital rights, says that “We need to ensure that Internet companies have as much incentive to fully protect free speech as they do to remove illegal content.”
“We would hope that a Digital Charter’s regulatory framework will include independent or judicial oversight of material that is taken down by Internet companies. This will help to ensure that we do not simply place the free speech of UK citizens in the hands of private companies without any safeguards.”
Space Industry Bill
This seemed to come out of nowhere, but hey, if the government want to make it easier to do space stuff, that’s okay with us.
The details are light at the moment - but it is pretty much what you’d expect: New rules to make licensing commercial rockets and spaceports easier, and support for a growing industry. Interestingly it does mention launching from British soil - so perhaps we could see rockets taking off from Newquay or northern Scotland in the not too distant future.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
And finally, a bill that is going to be pretty essential if we’re to keep up with the rest of the world over the next decade or so. The automated and electric vehicles bill will do exactly what you’d expect a government to do: Set technical standards, force petrol stations to install electrical chargers, and broadly make sure that our infrastructure is ready for the EV and automation revolution.
And that’s it tech-wise. Of course, whether any of this will ever happen remains to be seen given Theresa May’s precarious position as Prime Minister. But if she does manage to hang on, expect to spend the next couple of years arguing about data protection, judicial oversight - and where the best place is to put a Spaceport.