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Work Plan for UK Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum Published

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021 (9:07 am) - Score 240
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The newly established Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), which brings together several regulators (the Competition & Markets Authority, Ofcom and Information Commissioner’s Office) to help “ensure online services work well for people and businesses in the UK“, has today published their first 2021/22 work plan.

At present the three regulators – covering issues of data, privacy, competition, communications (telecoms) and content interact – already collaborate and coordinate between themselves, but the new DRCF hopes to strengthen those ties and improve upon them in order to result in better policy and regulation.

All of this is very relevant in view of the Government’s plan to increase the scope of regulations that apply to online content (e.g. Online Safety Bill), which is an area that Ofcom may regulate. Similarly, the ICO’s new Age Appropriate Design Code will set standards that relevant online services should meet to protect children from a range of harms arising from the processing of their personal data. On top of that a new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) is due to be established in the CMA.

The DRCF was soft-launched last July (here) and, among other things, today’s announcement confirms that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which has been an observer member since the outset, will also join as a full member from April 2021.

Dame Melanie Dawes, CEO of Ofcom, said:

“Online services are fundamental to how we interact with the world around us. And we want to ensure that people continue to enjoy the many benefits that these innovative platforms and technologies offer, while having peace of mind that they’re protected against the possible harms and risks.”

As we ready ourselves to take on new responsibilities to regulate online safety, today’s action plan sets out how, through the DRCF, we will strengthen our ties with the CMA and the ICO. Together we will drive a coherent approach to online regulation – for the good of internet users and the companies that serve them.”

Otherwise, the new work plan for 2021/22 will initially focus on three priority areas.

The DRCF Work Plan for 2021/22 (Priorities)

— Responding strategically to industry and technological developments

We will launch joint projects on complex, cross-cutting issues. The CMA has already published new research on algorithms, showing how they can reduce competition in digital markets and harm consumers if they are misused. This research and any feedback on it will inform the future work of the DRCF. Other projects will include research into service design frameworks; artificial intelligence; digital advertising technologies and end-to-end encryption.

We will collectively build a more comprehensive view of industry trends and new innovations in digital technology to understand shared implications for regulation.

— Developing joined-up regulatory approaches

The nature of digital services means that different regulatory regimes will interlink and overlap. Where this occurs, we will develop approaches for ensuring a coherent regulatory approach.

Areas of focus this year will be on the interrelation between data protection and competition regulation, and the Age-Appropriate Design Code and the regulation of Video-Sharing Platforms and Online Harms.

— Building shared skills and capabilities

We will work together to build our collective technical and analytical capabilities. We will explore operational models to support more efficient skills and expertise sharing in the future. This might include, for example, building cross-regulator specialist teams.

We will continue to engage closely with other regulatory authorities with responsibilities for digital markets, who share some of the challenges set out in our plan of work.

In addition to this, the Full Work Plan (PDF) document said they would also be taking steps to “strengthen our wider stakeholder engagement and transparency, and to further develop the functioning of the DRCF to support our ambitions.” Gauging the practical success of such work can be difficult and so, in the interests of transparency and accountability, they will publish an update and report in 12 months on their progress.

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