UK’s Digital Strategy Is to Be the Anti-EU Regulator

UK on smartphone, London backdrop

The U.K. government has used the London Tech Week that is taking place this week as the platform to unveil a series of proposals that aim to make the U.K. a global tech superpower.

On Monday (June 13), different members of the government revealed a new U.K. Digital Strategy that would bring “cross-government tech and digital policies together in one unified roadmap for ensuring digital technology, infrastructure and data drives economic growth and innovation in the coming years,” said Tech Minister Chris Philp.

The Digital Strategy focuses on six areas, including rolling out world class digital infrastructure, stimulating innovation through R&D, providing tech skills, encouraging financial digital growth, spreading the benefits across the country and collaborating with international partners.

The government has also published a plan for digital regulation proposing changes in legislation needed to drive growth and innovation. Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden sent a clear message saying that the U.K. regulatory approach will be “unashamedly pro-tech.” The core of this regulatory plan is to deregulate when possible and to eliminate barriers, and when new regulation is needed, adopt a very light-touch approach. For instance, one example of this new strategy is that the government will favor setting standards rather than imposing regulation when feasible.

Nonetheless, the government acknowledges that despite non-regulatory tools like standards, codes of conduct and self-regulation, some new laws may be necessary to regulate digital markets.

For this purpose, the digital regulation plan seems to focus on three broad areas and suggest a few initiatives in each of these areas. Critical infrastructure, fundamental human rights and consumer choice are the values or goals that the U.K. government is using to design its regulatory initiatives.

Critical infrastructure will be key to developing a semiconductor industry, strong artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities or quantum computing. The government is proposing a National Data Strategy, AI Strategy and National Cyber Strategy. All these proposals will be published in the next three to six months, according to the government. These strategies will be complemented with some public consultations on proposed regulation in these fields.

The second area, the protection of fundamental human rights, focuses on keeping the U.K. safe and secure online. The main developments in this area will be the Online Safety Bill and the U.K.’s data protection regime. The online safety bill is already in parliament and approval could come this year. New data protection rules are also expected soon but the government is still at the consultation stage. This regime will be important for the future use of artificial intelligence.

Consumer choice is another way to say that the government will try to make digital markets competitive. Competition is key to unlocking the full potential of the digital economy, driving innovation and increasing productivity, said the government in the press release announcing these plans. In 2021, the U.K. established a new competition regime for digital markets, but it has not been approved yet in parliament. The government also created a Digital Markets Unit that is well equipped to deal with the regulatory challenges in digital markets, but it can’t operate until it also gets parliamentary approval. The government will consult on this regime in summer, and it expects to put it on statutory footing “as soon as parliamentary times allows,” but as this regime was included in the parliamentary session as “draft bill” isn’t likely to be approved during this year.

Last, the government also wants to complement this regulatory road map with an external review of the U.K.’s compute capabilities. This review will produce recommendations to better understand the U.K.’s compute needs over the next decade.

Read more: UK Sets Course to Woo Big Tech