Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

– in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport 2:05 pm, 20th November 2018

With permission, I would like to make a statement on the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

The UK has a proud history of supporting the use of open data. Indeed, there has been a huge programme of work in recent years to make sure we are promoting the open and transparent use of data. The Government are in a privileged position, as we collect a vast quantity of high-quality data while delivering public services. As the UK moves rapidly towards a data-driven economy, we have an opportunity to improve decision making in many areas. The Government have already published over 44,000 datasets. Indeed, I pay tribute to the shadow Secretary of State, Tom Watson, who was an early pioneer of open data while a Minister in the Cabinet Office.

This unprecedented openness has created many benefits. First, it has made the Government more accountable and transparent. Secondly, it can improve the effectiveness of public services. Thirdly, it has created the potential for new businesses to thrive. By making our data available to the public, we have been able to fuel businesses and applications that make life better and easier, and all this has paid dividends. We are now ranked joint first in the world on the open data barometer—an achievement of which we can be justly proud.

While open data is something we must aspire to, we also need to use it in a safe and ethical manner. The rise of artificial intelligence-driven products and services has posed new questions that will impact us all. What are the ethical implications of using technology to determine someone’s likelihood of reoffending? Is it right to use a programme powered by AI to make hiring decisions? Can it ever be right to have an algorithm influence who should be saved in a car crash? These are no longer questions for science fiction but real questions that require clear and definitive answers, where possible, from policy makers.

That is why we have recently established the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation—ethics and innovation are not mutually exclusive, as strong ethics can be a driver of innovation. It is our intention that the centre becomes a world-class advisory body to make sure that data and AI deliver the best possible outcomes for society, in support of their ethical and innovative use. Following a consultation over the summer on the activities and work of the new centre, we are pleased to publish our response today.

This is the first body of its kind to be established anywhere in the world and represents a landmark moment for data ethics in the UK and internationally. Throughout the consultation, respondents recognised the urgent need for the centre, and there was widespread support for its objectives: to advise the Government on the necessary policy and regulatory action and to empower industry through the development of best practice. In turn, we can build public trust in data-driven technologies and make the most of the opportunities they present for society.

We have announced that Roger Taylor will chair the board. Roger has a background in consumer protection, founded Dr Foster, a healthcare data company, and is a passionate advocate for using data to improve lives. I know that he will do an excellent job. We have today announced the board members who will support Roger in this essential work. The board will include Lord Winston, a world-renowned expert in fertility and genetics, Kriti Sharma, vice president of AI at Sage and a leading global voice on data ethics, and Dame Patricia Hodgson, who was chair of Ofcom and brings a wealth of experience of regulatory affairs. The board will bring together some of our greatest minds and their immense and varied expertise to tackle these important issues.

Data is the fuel of any digital economy, and trust in that data is fundamental. As a nation, we have always been pioneers and advocates for transparency and freedom, and we will keep applying those values as we examine how we can make the most of data that is multiplying in scale and sophistication. The great challenge of the digital age is to ensure that data is used safely, ethically and, when possible, transparently. If we do that, we can help to power new technologies that will make life better and solve issues that are currently of grave concern. This truly is within our grasp, and if we work together, we can make it happen. I commend my statement to the House.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy) 2:10 pm, 20th November 2018

This Government tend to have ambitious plans for us to be an also-ran in the data age. We have an infrastructure that is hopelessly out of date, an education system that most teachers think is not fit for the future and a voluntary approach to regulation that will not ensure that the online world is a world of trust or a safe space for our children.

We welcome the Minister’s statement, and I thank her for advance sight of it. I also thank her for her words of praise for my hon. Friend Tom Watson, the shadow Secretary of State, who was indeed a pioneer of open data and the Open Data Institute and the Power of Information Task Force. However, if the new centre is to be an establishment that simply writes voluntary codes and publishes best practice, it will not stop the online hate speech, the data breaches, or the risk of new algorithms coding old injustices into new injustices and inequalities. The centre joins 12 other regulators and advisory bodies with some oversight of the internet, so we now have 13 different regulators and advisers, and this one lacks any statutory basis for either its independence or its focus.

As a test case, will the Minister tell us whether the centre will advise her on the Google DeepMind deal, whereby British health data and its control were transferred to California despite all the assurances that were given to the Government and the public at the time? Will she tell us what specific guidance she is seeking on algorithmic unfairness, given that she voted down the amendments that we had proposed to create a legislative basis in the Data Protection Act 2018? Will she tell us what advice she is seeking on reforming the competition regulation regime, given that more companies, like Amazon, are using data to create monopolistic practices in this country? Finally, will she tell us what steps she will take to ensure that the centre builds on our proposal for a digital rights Bill in a new clause earlier this year?

We are not living through an era of change; we are now living through a change of era, and it is time that the Government rose to the challenge.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. First, I should make it clear that the centre is not a new regulator. It will be an advisory body, which, for its first year or so, will be in the business of advising the Government and leading public debate on serious ethical issues associated with artificial intelligence. However, I can give a positive response to his question about its independence. It will become independent, and it will be placed on a statutory footing as soon as parliamentary time is available for us to introduce the necessary legislation. We fully intend this body to be totally independent of the Government in due course. Only on that basis, I believe, will it become the world-leading authority on data ethics and innovation that we want it to be in the future.

The right hon. Gentleman asks what the centre will do about online hate speech and other well-known online harms, which my Department and, indeed, the whole Government take extremely seriously. Earlier this year, we published a response to the Green Paper on internet safety, in which we stated that we were working on a White Paper that would explore various options, including legislation and statutory regulation to hold internet companies, particularly social media platforms, to account, and that we intended to produce legislation when parliamentary time permitted. We regard that area as separate from the ethical issues on which the new centre will advise public debate and the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions data protection. As he knows, that is regulated by the Information Commissioner, who has been involved in the development of the centre. He also mentions competition and the concentration of huge amounts of market power in the hands of a few companies. I am sure that many Members on both sides of the House share that concern, but it is very much a matter for the Competition and Markets Authority rather than for the new centre.

The right hon. Gentleman asks whether the centre will advise on Google’s decision to move parts of the healthcare practice of DeepMind to its Californian headquarters. As DeepMind and Google are private corporations, it is not up to the Government to pass comment on how they manage their affairs, but it is, of course, up to the new centre to opine on the practices and code of corporate governance of companies with which public services and Government contracts might work in the future. So there is a connection for the centre, albeit a rather tenuous one.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I hope that the centre will work in collaboration with the Open Data Institute, founded by Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Work on open data can make a significant difference both to people with new industries and to us in the House. The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, of which I am a patron, can use open data in a way that makes the Government start to change its approach to residential leasehold. I am sure that we can use information of this kind to make our job better, and to make a better economy.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestions. The Open Data Institute is just the sort of organisation that the new centre will work with and consult.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the Minister for her statement, although this data seems to be under particular protection. I did not receive an advance copy, although I am sure that that was an oversight on the part of her Department.

The Scottish National party welcomes the announcement of the establishment of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. In the age of big data and tech firm power, it is vital for users to be confident that their data is being used in a safe and ethical manner. It is excellent—I hope I am right about this—to see a gender balance on the board, along with racial diversity. I hope that we may see appointments that ensure that LGBTI people and people with disabilities are properly represented and reflected.

I also hope that the Minister will do her best to ensure that the board makes every effort to bridge the gender data gap. I am sure that she is well aware of “Invisible Women”, a recent book by Caroline Criado-Perez. She may also be aware of the comments made by Mayra Buvinic, a United Nations Foundation senior fellow who is working on Data2X, an initiative aimed at closing the gender data gap. She has said:

“The dearth of data makes it difficult to set policies and gauge progress, preventing governments and organizations from taking measurable steps to empower women and improve lives”.

I am sure the Minister agrees that if our Governments are to design the right policies, we must ensure that we collect data on all parts of our society; otherwise, how can we track progress and evaluate developments? Will the Minister discuss those matters with the board and report back on progress? Will she also explain how the centre will work with the devolved nations and Governments on these issues?

There have been reports this week that airline booking algorithms are identifying families with the same surname who are travelling together on the same flight and then deliberately seating them in different parts of the aircraft, with the aim of encouraging them to pay extra to sit together. Does the Minister agree that that is an example of practices that constitute an unethical use of data and target poorer families, and will she confirm that it is exactly such practices that the centre will examine? Perhaps that is a starter for 10.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and apologise that she did not have advance sight of the statement. I agree with many of her points. It is essential that users can have confidence about what is done with their data. That was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of the new data protection legislation earlier in the year. I am glad that she has noted the better diversity on the board of the new institute; in my view that is vital for the very reasons she sets out. It is extremely important that gender, LGBTI and other groups are well represented during the decision-making processes on how data are used as well as on the board of the new body. I will certainly discuss those matters with the new board, which I meet for the first time at its meeting on Monday next week.

Yes, we must continue our discussions with devolved Administrations, and I have already condemned in the strongest possible terms the practices of some airline companies on which she updated the House just now; that is outrageous. These are questions of corporate governance as well as the use of AI. One of the reasons we have set the centre up is to make sure that AI is a force for public good, rather than manipulation in such a cynical attempt at profiteering.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I strongly welcome the statement. The Select Committee on Education is conducting an inquiry into the impact of the fourth industrial revolution and AI on skills, education and our economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that studies suggesting that 28% of the jobs done by young people could be lost to AI reveal one of the most important challenges facing our nation? Should we not have a royal commission to look at the overall impact of AI, automation and robotics?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I know my hon. Friend and his Select Committee are looking into these matters and I look forward to engaging with him on them. I encourage Roger Taylor and his team to do so as well. My hon. Friend is right. A recent NESTA report looking forward at the workforce of 2030 found that 20% of our current workforce are in occupations that are likely to be subject to automation and 10% are in occupations that are likely to expand, so this is an important issue and is right at the top of our agenda.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

The scandals of Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ show just how far behind Governments are in tackling data ethics and the manipulation of data. Does the Minister agree that such issues are often best tackled at EU level, and that this is precisely the wrong time for the Government to walk away from the EU if we are serious about addressing these problems?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The matters to which the right hon. Gentleman refers were recently the subject, and continue to be the subject, of an Information Commissioner’s Office inquiry. I am confident that the ICO has the necessary resources and expertise to undertake these inquiries. Leaving the EU does not mean that we will be abandoning our data protection standards. We fully expect to maintain them and develop them further over time.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

Will the centre have the scope to look at AI and data usage in political campaigning and quasi-political campaigning?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The inquiry I referred to in the previous answer has been reported on by the Information Commissioner, and she is setting forth a code of practice for political parties to sign up to on their use of data and how data are processed.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

A dating service that optimises short-term relationships to ensure repeat business. A taxi service that charges people more when their phone battery is low. A recruitment service that prioritises men for higher paid vacancies. I welcome the new centre but, with respect, those examples do not require ethical investigation; they require regulation and enforcement. When will we get that?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

In my answer to the shadow Minister, I set out that the Government are working on a White Paper that will be the precursor to various proposals and options for regulatory and legal reinforcement. Some of the examples the hon. Lady gives may well be the subject of that future legislation.

Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire

This area presents huge challenges for society in the future, but also real opportunities, particularly in highly skilled and well-paid jobs. How will the new centre assist in taking forward the AI sector deal, which is potentially of huge benefit across the country?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

This centre will play its part, but I also draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the AI Council—recently launched, and chaired by Tabitha Goldstaub, founder of CognitionX—which is charged with taking forward the AI sector deal so we have an industry that lives up to its potential.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

I too welcome the new centre, but will it be accountable to the Government, or perhaps to Parliament through the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee? Will the Minister also tell us a little more about its relationship with the ICO and rerun the answer to the question from my right hon. Friend Liam Byrne on DeepMind, because to suggest that because these are private companies there is no role for Government is, frankly, a complete abrogation of responsibility?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I am grateful to Daniel Zeichner for giving me the opportunity to clarify the last point he raised. Obviously private companies are subject to law and regulation. They are subject to the current laws and regulations on corporate governance, which have been strengthened by this Government in the last 18 months. I did not see that as a prime issue for the new centre, but corporations are of course subject to rules on corporate governance and so forth.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

This sounds like a good idea, but we used to have a policy of reducing the number of quangos, so which quango is the Minister getting rid of to establish this new one?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful question. This is being done in response to a new and growing need which perhaps was not anticipated when we established the policy to reduce the overall number of advisory bodies to the Government.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Mental Health)

I was delighted to welcome Google to my constituency last Friday, when it delivered internet safety training and training on the appropriate use of data at Boothroyd Primary Academy. What specific ethical provisions will the board take into account in considering the impact of new technology on children?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

The impact of new technology on children is being examined by various other organisations. For example, the chief medical officer has been instructed by the Department of Health and Social Care to examine that matter, and the Children’s Commissioner is also looking into it. It is a vital subject, which our White Paper will also address.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester

I welcome the establishment of this centre here in the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital to ensure that the public have confidence in how their data are being used online, particularly with regard to algorithms for AI and deep machine learning?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which goes to the heart of what we expect the new centre to be examining and advising on. She raises crucial questions, which are definitely within the remit of the new centre.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

As Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, I can confirm that it warmly welcomes the establishment of the centre. One of the issues the Government response to the consultation did not really cover was whether the centre’s remit will include the ability to advise on the need for clearer guidelines on the sharing of public sector data, so that the enormous datasets within the NHS and other public services can be shared for the public benefit while also maintaining trust.

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee for his question, particularly as it has reminded me of something I overlooked in my answer to the previous one. It is absolutely essential that public trust is earned and reinforced, because surveys that I have seen indicate that the public have something of a crisis of trust in the way in which personal data is currently being analysed—

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

And shared, exactly. This is going to be a vital question for the new centre, but it also comes under the regulatory purview of the Information Commissioner.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

Can my hon. Friend assure me that rural communities will have a voice at the centre, especially given the role that AI will play in driving up productivity for farms as we take back control of our agricultural policy when we leave the EU?

Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

I certainly think that rural areas have a key role to play and a voice that must be listened to as we develop policy in this area. If you will allow me, Mr Speaker, I also want to emphasise the fact that rural areas need better connectivity. Farms need to be able to connect to the coming 5G networks, so that they are able to take advantage of the internet of things and all the other positive benefits that AI will allow.