Last week, government published the response to the National Data Strategy consultation, and laid the ICO’s Data Sharing Code of Practice before Parliament. Respondents to the consultation considered questions relating to the five priority areas for action that government set out:
- Mission 1: Unlocking the value of data held across the economy
- Mission 2: Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime
- Mission 3: Transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services
- Mission 4: Ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies
- Mission 5: Championing the international flow of data
Since publication of the framework National Data Strategy in September 2020, we’ve helped to progress several of the priorities laid out, across the Strategy's missions. For example, we’ve been working with the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) as it seeks to develop an approach to algorithmic transparency, which will play a part in enabling the UK to secure a trusted data regime. In this blog, however, we wanted to update on how we’re helping realise Mission 1 of the National Data Strategy; to unlock the value of data across the economy.
Good use of data presents opportunities to realise social and economic benefits. The response to the consultation pointed to our COVID-19 repository and public attitudes retrospective, which showcased how data and data-driven technologies have been harnessed to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, from the piloting of drones that delivered medical supplies to remote regions, to the creation of health equipment databases that monitored the availability of assets in the NHS. It also highlighted a report we published earlier this year on local government data use during COVID-19, which found that a range of data-driven interventions that had been launched or repurposed in local government during the pandemic, including the use of the ‘VIPER’ tool by local authorities in Essex, which has enabled emergency services to share data in real time, and Hackney Council’s analysis of internal and external datasets, which helped them identify residents who are vulnerable to COVID-19. However, whilst we have seen unprecedented innovation at pace during the pandemic, we have also been reminded of the many barriers to sharing data in a timely manner across sectors and organisations.
The CDEI has been exploring how we can maximise the value of data for the public good as we emerge from the pandemic, in a way that earns public trust. We’ve helped to shape research into how government can increase access to data held across the economy, which will guide government’s approach to prioritising interventions to promote data availability, supporting innovation and growth. We’ve also been working with teams across government to explore mechanisms that enable trustworthy use and sharing of data, including governance arrangements, such as data intermediaries, and technically-focused solutions, including privacy enhancing technologies (PETs). We believe that our convening power, and previous work in this area, puts us in a unique position to support new approaches.
Privacy enhancing technologies
As set out in the National Data Strategy, we’ve been working with DCMS and the ICO to explore how PETs can be most effectively deployed in practice to enable trustworthy and safe data use, and remove barriers to data sharing, for example by managing the risks associated with sharing commercially-sensitive and personal data. In February, we launched an open call asking for individuals and organisations developing or utilising PETs to share examples where PETs had been piloted, or successfully used in production environments. We received a number of responses to the open call, enabling us to engage with a broad range of stakeholders in this field.
By collating examples and conducting in-depth case studies, we have been able to draw out common insights, and identify areas where more widespread use of PETs has the potential to bring about significant benefits. We’ve also highlighted several key barriers to the widespread adoption of PETs, which include a lack of awareness and expertise, poor data foundations, financial risk, regulatory uncertainty, and technological immaturity, and have proposed a range of interventions to government to address them.
Next month, we’ll be publishing a repository of the use-cases that we collated, which we hope will prove a useful resource for organisations seeking to leverage PETs, enabling them to learn from others in the community. We’ll also be publishing a PETs adoption guide to assist individuals and organisations working on data initiatives in considering how they might use PETs in their projects.
We have been exploring the role of data intermediaries in enabling trustworthy data sharing. The CDEI will be looking for opportunities to work on projects where there is a potential for the use of new governance arrangements to facilitate responsible data sharing and improve data access in the public sector.
For example, we’re currently working with DCMS on the Online Safety Data Initiative, a £2.6m programme that government committed to launching in its National Data Strategy. The project, which will run over the course of 15 months, is designed to test methodologies which enable better access to high quality datasets that can be used for training artificial intelligence (AI) systems to identify and remove harmful and illegal content from the internet. During the government’s consultation on the Online Harms White Paper, stakeholders within the UK safety technology sector identified access to the required data as the single biggest barrier to developing innovative solutions to address online harms. In addition to convening and managing a cross-sector independent advisory group to provide additional insight, challenge and transparency to the project, we have been considering which governance models would most effectively enable access to data in a way that also secures public trust.
We are working with BEIS to identify and develop the features of trustworthy Smart Data schemes, drawing upon our data ethics and public attitudes expertise. This work will assist BEIS in supporting the design of sectoral Smart Data schemes that deliver benefits for consumers and businesses. In doing so, we hope to help government and regulators to improve interoperability between schemes and build public trust.
Feedback to the response to the National Data Strategy consultation confirmed that building and maintaining public trust will be key to unlocking the power of data. Certain respondents also recommended that the CDEI should further explore ways to build trust in data. To do this, our work to explore and trial new mechanisms that enable trustworthy data use, such as data intermediaries, will be coupled with continued engagement with the public to build an understanding of the values that citizens want reflected in new models of data governance.
We recently committed to stepping up our public engagement efforts through our new Public Attitudes Insights Team, who have been making use of a range of methodologies, from survey research to focus groups. In the same blog, we updated on the new ‘Public Attitudes to Data and AI’ (PADAI) network that we set up for cross-Whitehall organisations involved in data policy. We’re pleased that the response to the National Data Strategy consultation commits to working closely with the CDEI and the PADAI network to explore new ways of building trust in data use.
The consultation on the National Data Strategy sought views on our proposed future functions (including partnership working, providing practical support for interventions in the tech landscape, and monitoring uses of AI and data-driven technology) and statutory status. DCMS will release further detail on this in the coming period, along with an updated work programme, and announcement about our new Chair and refreshed Board.