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by Jenni Davidson
07 July 2016
Digital Economy Bill allowing greater data sharing put before MPs

Digital Economy Bill allowing greater data sharing put before MPs

House of Commons bench  Image credit: Parliament via Flickr

A bill that will enable more data sharing within the public sector has been put before the House of Commons.

If passed, the Digital Economy Bill will allow public bodies to share information with each other when there is a public benefit.

This could include automatic allocation of benefits such as discounts on energy bills for people living in fuel poverty, easier data sharing between agencies about vulnerable people or troubled families and confirmation of births, deaths or marriages without the need for paper documentation.

The bill will also give public sector organisations new powers to share information in order to combat public sector fraud and collect debt, while also strengthening the Data Protection Act, with new offences for unlawful disclosure.

Another aim of the bill aims is to make it easier for researchers and statisticians to access public sector data, so that official statistics are more timely and accurate.

A Cabinet Office statement said: “Valuable opportunities to help people are often missed because of the way in which government stores, manages and uses data. This means we are falling behind on the services we are able to provide, and wasting public money.”

It added that “proportionate and secure sharing of information” would give government the facts and figures it needs to “develop and deliver policies and services to the right people at the right time, whilst ensuring that data is kept safe and secure”.

The bill will include a new electronic communications code will be introduced to cut the cost of building mobile and superfast broadband infrastructure, while simpler planning rules for building broadband infrastructure and new measures to manage radio spectrum are proposed to increase infrastructure.

In addition to the public sector and infrastructure elements, the Digital Economy Bill offers new rights to the public.

If the bill is passed, all citizens will have a legal right to request a 10Mbps broadband connection under a broadband universal service obligation.

The legislation would also make broadband switching easier and ensure that consumers are automatically compensated for problems with their broadband service, as well as offering protection from nuisance callers and spammers and new safeguards for children from online pornography.

Intellectual property is also set to be better defended online with the introduction of a new ‘webmarking’ design registration system and equalisation in laws for online copyright infringement with physical copyright infringement.

The bill has been developed over two years in an open policy-making process followed by an eight-week public consultation.

This week saw the first reading of the bill, with a date for the next stage still to be announced.

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