A United Kingdom government minister has signalled the country is likely to diverge from the European Union on data protection.

Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport gave the strongest hint yet that the UK government will take advantage of Brexit to develop a distinct data protection regime. Dowden also said the next Information Commissioner will be asked to ensure people can use data to achieve economic and social goals. 

Dowden, writing in the Financial Times, said: “We do not need to copy and paste the EU’s rule book, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), word-for-word.

“Countries as diverse as Israel and Uruguay have successfully secured adequacy with Brussels despite having their own data regimes. Not all of those were identical to GDPR, but equal doesn’t have to mean the same.” He said the EU “doesn’t hold the monopoly on data protection”.

Dowden’s comments came as the UK government begins a search for the next Information Commissioner, once Elizabeth Denham’s term ends at the end of October.

Dowden said he wants to set a new approach that no longer sees data just as a threat, but as an “opportunity”.

Dowden said: “The next Information Commissioner will not just be asked to focus on privacy, but also be empowered to ensure people can use data to achieve economic and social goals.

He added: “Right now, too many businesses and organisations are reluctant to use data — either because they don’t understand the rules, or are afraid of inadvertently breaking them.

“That has hampered innovation and the improvement of public services, and prevented scientists from making new discoveries. Clearly, not using data has real-life costs.”

The European Commission last month agreed a draft data adequacy decision, guaranteeing the continued free flow of personal data between the EU and UK. However the adequacy decision will be reviewed by the EU after four years and commentators have questioned whether the arrangement will last, particularly if there is significant divergence by the UK.

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