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Digital minister: GDPR marks last roar of the dinosaur

Margot James

Today is an important day for data protection as the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force.

As one of the key drivers of the economy, the construction sector needs to make sure that it plays its part in being compliant with the new rules. I’m sure many of you will have either been involved in sending emails or received some yourselves, from companies asking if they can stay in touch.

Of course there may be some irony in the fact that before you gain greater control of your data, you have been contacted by mailing lists you might have forgotten you were even on, but look on it as the last roar of the dinosaur. The days of companies assuming your consent, and being free to do with your data as they will, are ending. 

However, within the construction industry there is still a lack of awareness about the new rules, with only around 60 per cent of SMEs in the industry even aware of the GDPR coming into effect. That’s compared with awareness among SMEs in the financing and accounting sectors of 87 per cent. The sector is also not completely ready, with only 56 per cent of SMEs prepared for GDPR’s implementation. 

Support available

But help is at hand. Anyone in the sector with concerns about compliance should contact the Information Commissioner’s Office. They are there to help with a range of useful information online and a dedicated phone line offering support. 

The GDPR is something we all need to be aware of – both as business leaders and consumers.

Our data protection laws were last reviewed in 1998, in the days before digital became default in society. But now, recognising the revolution that has happened since, we are making them fit for the 21st century.

“There is a risk data is becoming a dirty word, the stuff of exposés and scandals. That perception would be very wrong”

This week our Data Protection Bill received royal assent, updating and improving our data protection laws and making sure they are aligned with the GDPR, which comes into force across the EU today. The UK has been a leading member on the new rules and the ICO played a vital role in their development.

That is a good thing for everyone.

Exposé misconception

There is a risk data is becoming a dirty word, the stuff of exposés and scandals. That perception would be very wrong. Used responsibly, data is the lifeblood of a digital economy and key to unlocking prosperity and success.

The UK tech sector is booming, and outperforming the rest of our economy by some margin. It is spreading wealth and employment far beyond the capital, with notable growth in places such as Burnley, Enniskillen, Guildford, Reading, Slough and Telford.

“Our new laws will give the UK’s information commissioner greater power to act in cases of a data breach”

Our digital businesses, particularly those across the construction sector, rely on the collection of data to be able to push ahead with innovative work. 

Companies are embracing new technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented / virtual reality and blockchain. This revision of our data protection rules should help them by securing public trust in how data is used.

Power-ups

Our new laws will give the UK’s information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, greater power to act in cases of a data breach as well as providing education, awareness and support.

She will also be allowed to carry out ‘no notice’ inspections, with the threat of criminal convictions for those who fail to comply. But businesses and charities should be reassured that consent is just one of the lawful bases for processing data, and many companies will still be able to process data, contact customers and supporters on the basis of a legitimate interest.

Among the new, more stringent measures that are coming in, we are giving you the right to be forgotten and to ask for your personal data to be erased. 

We are also ending the reliance on those preselected tick boxes whereby companies assume your consent to their policies. The great Tom Waits once sang, “The large print giveth and the small print taketh away”, and we know people rarely read the smallprint. From now on companies will need your explicit consent before they can make use of your data.

So make sure you and your business are aware of the new data protection laws. It’s an important step forward in data protection and something that everyone needs to play their part in.

Margot James is minister for digital and the creative industries

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