Going our own way
Edwards, a Kiwi who has served in government for seven years after a career in law and has repeatedly sparred with Facebook, has been presented as a breath of fresh air. His nomination was announced as Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, unveiled post-Brexit plans to relax Britain’s data laws from the strict GDPR legislation inherited from the EU. Last week, Dowden’s department said it would “remove unnecessary barriers to responsible data use”.
Crucially, the Government is using the reforms as an opportunity to present a more business-friendly regime than Europe’s, and sign data agreements with countries around the world. The Government estimates there are £67bn worth of data-enabled exports from the UK to the US that could be better oiled with changes to privacy rules. In an appointment hearing in front of MPs last week, Edwards appeared to endorse this move, saying Britain was “entitled to take Fleetwood Mac’s advice and ‘go your own way’”.
“You must regulate what’s in the best interests of the people of the UK,” he said. “It’s for the UK to determine what suits the UK. It is the world’s sixth largest economy, it certainly has the wherewithal to chart its own course.”
Gehan Gunasekara, an associate professor at the University of Auckland and chairman of New Zealand’s privacy foundation, says Edwards devoted much of his time in the southern hemisphere to international agreements on how to rein in Big Tech, likely to prove crucial as Britain seeks data transfer agreements with a group of countries as diverse as Korea, Singapore and Colombia.
“These are very powerful networks. If they all work together then there’s a good chance that these companies could be reined in,” Gunasekara says.
Speaking to MPs last week, Edwards dismissed fears that the Government would have to walk a tightrope between international agreements and a current deal with the EU, which the bloc has warned could be in jeopardy if the UK strays too far from its own rules. However, he indicated that he was willing to take a more common-sense approach than Britain’s neighbours, saying overzealous data requirements have held back investment.