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National data strategy to be developed in the UK

A national data strategy is to be developed in the UK, the government has announced.18 Jun 2018

UK digital secretary Matt Hancock has been asked to produce the strategy by prime minister Theresa May, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said.

The aim of the strategy will be to "unlock the power of data in the UK economy and government, while building public confidence in its use", DCMS said.

The plan to develop the strategy was outlined as the government published proposals (25-page / 278KB PDF) on what role and objectives and areas of focus the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation should have.

UK chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed in his Budget statement last November that a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation would be established "to enable and ensure safe, ethical and ground-breaking innovation in AI (artificial intelligence) and data‑driven technologies".

DCMS has now said the Centre should be placed on a "statutory footing" and serve as an independent adviser to the government to help it "enable safe and ethical innovation in the use of data and AI".

The body would also be responsible for identifying barriers to and opportunities for ethical and innovative uses of data and AI, by engaging in research and analysis, reviewing existing regulation, consulting with "industry, civil society, regulators and the public​" and "horizon-scanning" work, it said.

The draft terms of reference for the new Centre that the government has set out would also require the Centre to "identify best practice for the responsible use of data and AI", including by supporting the development of new standards and codes of conduct, setting "high-level ethical principles" on use of data and AI, and working with others to develop new legal frameworks for such use too.

Initially the Centre should focus its work "to strengthen the governance of data and AI uses" in six areas, DCMS said. This work should including looking at how data and AI is used for targeting individuals, as well as issues of fairness and transparency, liability, access to data, and intellectual property and ownership, it said.

The new Centre could also play a role in shaping how new data protection laws in the UK evolve over time as use of AI and attitudes towards it develops, DCMS said.

Roger Taylor, co-founder of health data management and analysis company Dr Foster who will chair the new Centre, said: "I’m looking forward to setting up the Centre and working with the board to ensure that powerful data-driven technologies are deployed in the interests of society. The Centre has an ambitious and important role to play in making sure we harness the full benefits of data and artificial intelligence and I am pleased to play a central role in shaping its work during this early and critical phase."

The UK government announced a new AI 'sector deal' with sections of the technology industry earlier this year. The deal sets out how business, academia and government might work in partnership to drive improvements in UK productivity through support for AI, and is made up of a package of measures including up to £0.95 billion of financial support for the AI sector from public and private investment, as well as improved tax credits for AI research and development.