Heavy data protection regulation looms in Labour plans for post-Brexit flows and IoT devices

Westminster Hall debate shows parties in harmony over sticking their oar in

Claw hammer

A minister has said that future Internet of Things and data regulation will take into account "decisions that we need to be aware we are making" when handing personal data over to tech companies.

Junior tech policy minister Matt Warman told a Westminster Hall debate of MPs last week that the IoT "represents a whole new chapter of how technology is becoming more common in our homes".

The debate occurred on the same day as the incumbent UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, co-signed a letter with the US attorney general and Aussie Home Affairs minister requesting that Facebook "does not proceed with its plan to implement end-to-end encryption... without including a means for lawful access to the content of communications..."

One-time Ofcom gros fromage Chi Onwurah MP secured the debate, supposedly as a discussion about IoT regulation. It veered a bit into Labour Party electioneering for a new digital society based on heavy regulation of largely American tech and data-trading companies.

"We need an architecture of standards and a regulatory framework that enables security and interoperability across the internet and also considers the lifeblood of the internet of things — data," said Onwurah.

Enthusiastically promoting a heavy-touch view of future UK IoT regulation, she continued: "That libertarian idea that technology is the answer to everything has driven our regulatory approach for too long, so he [Warman] is right to say that we need experts on technology who can stand up for and consider its future applications from the point of view of society and citizens."

Her Labour colleague Jon Cruddas, MP for Barking, reinforced this by dismissing Silicon Valley's confidence "in the potential of technology [which] goes hand in hand with a widespread libertarianism," while bizarrely adding: "What happens when transhumanist thinking informs the technologists?"

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Transhumanism – discussed in this 2017 Reg lecture here – is, as many a reader will know, famously espoused by Kevin "Captain Cyborg" Warwick and Dmitry Kaminskiy of Deep Knowledge Ventures, who once appointed a robot to his company board.

SNP MP Patrick Grady observed, rather shakily, that he wasn't sure if his political party "has an established view on transhumanism" but returned to the topic of the debate to say that the IoT "is already part of some people's daily lives, perhaps without them even realising or with them already taking it for granted."

Liam Byrne, Labour's shadow Minister of Fun*, compared the rise of the IoT to the Industrial Revolution, giving PR flacks the world over a little shiver of delight, and likened the situation now to Adam Smith's linen shirt. Comparing that economic need (a man without one in Smith's day was thought to be poor, simply because everyone else at the time had one) to the progress of tech across the world, Byrne called for a digital "bill of rights" combined with "powerful regulation" to curb "some of the biggest, wealthiest and most powerful companies on earth".

Responding to all this, Warman said: "This is a debate about data, not the internet of things… The consumer has to understand that they are giving up their data for a particular purpose and a particular benefit.

"I commend the approach that says we are dealing with issues that go far beyond a debate about technology," continued Warman, "which will have an impact on huge aspects of humanity itself, whether we get them right or wrong."

He then went on to claim that there will be 75 billion IoT devices worldwide by 2025, a figure that is half again as large as the discredited 50-billion-by-2020 figure disowned by Ericsson some years ago.

Whatever the future of IoT and/or data regulation, the government will probably remain tied up in Brexit for years to come. ®

* Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport

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