Personal Data

Science, Innovation and Technology – in the House of Commons at on 17 April 2024.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

What steps her Department is taking to help protect the personal data of individuals.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill before Parliament builds on the high standards that we already have for personal data protection. It strengthens and modernises the regulator so that it can enforce standards must more robustly, to protect people. We are looking at what we can do to strengthen our cyber-resilience and data infrastructure all the time as new technology develops.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It is clearly vital that the enormous amounts of personal data collected by Departments and private companies are safeguarded. I have received a number of complaints about people’s personal data being abused by companies, and indeed about public sector data being sold to companies who then use it. Just this weekend, our Greater London Authority candidate had his phone hacked and his social media destroyed. That is equally important as a demonstration of what can happen to democracy when data is abused. Will my hon. Friend take further action to safeguard people’s personal data?

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that case. I regret what has happened to the GLA candidate, which highlights some of the risks in relation to technology. That is why we have high data protection standards, but there is a range of ways in which we need to tackle this problem. We have the national cyber strategy, which is working to ensure that we can deal with the cyber-threats we face. We are taking measures to protect our data infrastructure and trying to do things to stop fraud in the national “Stop! Think Fraud” strategy, as well as new laws on security of devices, such as connected devices. We need to do a whole range of things, but we need to keep making sure that we are vigilant about the risks.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

When my 91-year-old mother died, I took on her landline for purely sentimental reasons. For months and months after that, I kept getting scam calls offering all sorts of dodgy products. Does the Minister agree that the elderly almost more than anyone else must have their personal data protected?

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

I am sorry to hear of that experience, which I am afraid is shared by constituents across the country. That is why we have taken new measures in the data Bill to try to deal with scam calls by trying to ensure that we can see where those numbers are and take action by blocking them on bulk. I appreciate what the hon. Member said; it is something that we must tackle.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Shadow Minister (Tech and Digital Economy)

We are told that this is the general election year. In other countries, we already see those who want to manipulate democracy using AI to scrape together personal details, including someone’s face and voice, allowing them to falsify candidates’ views. What Bob Blackman raised about the GLA candidate is pertinent. As we quickly approach the second half of the year—when we are told the Prime Minister will finally call the election—will the Government commit to ensuring that personal details are protected for candidates, voters and, above all, democracy as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

We absolutely share those concerns. That is why we have a defending democracy taskforce working across every Department to look at the threats to our democracy. We face a substantial threat, and it is one that we must all be mindful of in how we conduct ourselves as candidates. AI, fakes and the protection of data is one element of that, but I assure the House that we are taking a whole range of measures to ensure that the protection of the coming general election is robust.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

Individuals’ personal data is not safe in Tory hands. A recent article in The Guardian reported that senior Tory party officials planned to make millions from selling off their own members’ data through the “True Blue” app. If the Tory party is happy to sell off its own members’ personal data, how can the public possibly have confidence that their data is safe under the Government?

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

The allegations that the hon. Lady has put forward were written in The Guardian, and I have not seen them myself. I am presiding over the data Bill, and I have seen no evidence to suggest that we are trying to bring forward laws that would do such a thing.