Chris questions the government about the “potential and pitfalls” of big data

 

 

Today (5th February 2018) in the House of Lords, Chris asked the Government what action they are taking, or plan to take, to ensure that people are aware of their rights and obligations in respect of data protection and privacy.

Writing in Politics Home Chris argues that we must raise awareness and start a public debate to promote a greater understanding of data: the value, use cases, protections, obligations and ethics including asking what a social contract based on data for public good might look like.

“Data is increasingly described as the fuel driving the 4th IR, just like the oil and electricity of previous industrial revolutions, but unlike those earlier examples we, the people, are producing the data. Huge tech giants have users and customers, and as users our data is ‘farmed’ and monetised then sold to customers. Most of us understand and accept this arrangement as beneficial to us and relatively benign, in exchange for information about our shopping habits we receive (sometimes useful) targeted adverts. But the potential of data, particularly as fuel for Artificial Intelligence, extends far beyond these commercial applications. Already, insurance companies the police and other organisations are watching and using our data in ways that are less well known or understood. Just one statistic helps underline the exponential ‘everythingness’ of this; 90% of all data was created in the last two years.

Data is a precious resource. Of course, as with anything, all that glistens is not gold, but there is gold, diamonds and doubloons a plenty if we get this right. Imagine, a health service transformed through insightful, responsible use of data, in law enforcement, big data could become our best detective and if we no longer fancy horse in the lasagne, data has a role. We can transform our public services and be at the forefront of global standards, it’s down to us. Everything and nothing changes. We are experiencing an extraordinary pace of change, all driven by data but we still seek truths, reliability and connection. Thus, we must have conversations about data, who owns it, what rights we have and what obligations. What could a social contract based on data for public good look like?

Progress is being made in terms of legislation governing data; from May this year the GDPR will come into force and the Data Protection Bill is currently making its way through parliament. Many colleagues have done excellent work on the Bill and I am heartened that the government has accepted an amendment to ensure a more robust data regime for children following outstanding cross party working led by Baroness Kidron. Also in the Lords, Baroness Lane-Fox tabled an excellent debate in September calling for improved digital awareness.

It is beholden upon us as legislators to determine how we regulate, how we transact, how we thrive in the Fourth industrial revolution. In doing this we must protect citizen’s rights and responsibilities and most of all ask what society we want to be. I welcome the Governments work to develop a digital charter and establish a centre for data ethics and innovation. These are excellent initiatives but we must keep up the pressure particularly in communicating this work to the general public. We cannot leave it to the tech giants to determine what is best for us; as we saw recently with Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebooks recent changes were made “in order to amplify the good”.

In conclusion, we have everything we need and more to engage in the most marvellous of public debates, like that Baroness Warnock so beautifully achieved with reproductive advances decades ago. We are born human, we have the ethics, we can plot the innovation all rooted in transparency and trust, commerciality and care and an unyielding focus on proportionality and purpose putting data sharing at the heart of a new 21st Century social contract.”

Chris questions the Government on its response to the fourth industrial revolution

Today (15th November 2017) Chris asked the Government what cross-Whitehall work they are undertaking to maximize opportunities from the fourth industrial revolution; particularly in terms of digital skills, artificial intelligence, machine learning and distributed ledger technology.

The question was intentionally broad and included a range of technologies and priorities as Chris hoped to highlight that the Government must grasp the ‘everythingness’ of this new technology.

As Chris wrote in Politics Home: “the 4IR is already well underway and it will make the first industrial revolution sound a mild murmur by comparison… There is no separate world of digital. It won’t be possible to focus on, for example, health, education or defence and leave others to “do the digital”.  Crucially, the 4IR is inevitable, not optional and whilst I welcome the inclusion of digital in DCMS I seek reassurance that the scale of the challenge and the necessity for a cross-governmental approach is understood and acted upon.

The technology may be complex – who really knows what goes on inside the black box at Deep Mind or appreciates the finer details of the cryptograph hash function of Bitcoin. But this is not about the tech per se it is about the potential, the solutions which can be realized and what will be required from Government, from all of us, for such realization to become reality.”

 

What should the government do with blockchain?

Today I’ll be asking the government what they have learnt from an ongoing trial in which benefits are paid to people via a system using blockchain (or distributed ledger) technology. A blockchain is an asset database that can be shared across several networks, and the trial – run by fintech company GovCoin and researchers at University College London – pays participants through an app on their smart phone which connects them to various services.

I passionately believe in the potential for technology to transform our lives for the better and think it essential that both government and society start from the point of a considered can, rather than a fearful can’t. I hope that learning more about the Govcoin trial will help us all understand, and be part of, the changes that are coming. I also believe the government needs to look wider than the Department for Work and Pensions for applications of this technology; across Whitehall and the whole public sector and also seriously consider the move from proof of concept to pilot to scale.

Advances in technology can absolutely be about empowering, enabling and creating closer more effective relationships. Distributed ledger techonology, if applied properly by seriously addressing issues of privacy, security, identity and trust, can offer incredible benefits to us all, including, but not limited to, reduced costs for government (and taxpayer) and better services for individuals.

As a member of the Lords Committee on Financial Exclusion our report, published this weekend, found that more than 1.7m people in the UK do not have a bank account, further estimates suggest at least 600,000 older people are financially excluded. A combination of  distributed ledger technology and developments such as the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) could lead to greater financial inclusion of people currently on the fringes of the financial system. These are serious and tangible benefits.

Another significant area of potential is the transformation of the relationship between government agencies and citizens. Greater transparency and trust should lead to a more equal, connected and far closer relationship. But this will not happen as a matter of course and there needs to be a principles-based, appropriate framework that is underpinned by an understanding of the philosophical, psychological and legal issues at play.

The best way for the government to move ahead with the work is to adopt clear, honest communication with the public. There must be clarity about what the government is trying to do and how to get there – and crucially how it’s a joint endeavour. This means a further shift towards user-centric service design and co-production that sees people as active parties, rather than passive recipients. People must understand the value of their data and have ownership of it. The Digital Economy Bill, currently making its way through parliament, offers a start in dealing with some of these questions and considerations but lacks ambition and has provoked understandable concerns regarding privacy and data sharing powers.

Digital Skills Select Committee Report Published

Chris on screen, Sky Digital View

The report, entitled “Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future”, urges the incoming Government to seize the opportunity to secure the UK’s place as a global digital leader and makes some significant recommendations. Key recommendations are: treating the internet as a utility and prioritising and regulating it in the same way as other essential utilities, making digital literacy a core subject, as important as English and Maths and putting a single “Digital Agenda” at the heart of Government with a Cabinet Minister responsible for it. Chris feels strongly about the need to set more ambitious goals and urges the next Government to adopt the Committee’s recommendations.

Full report

Media reports

Incredible new 3D audio technology

 

Chris sitting on BBC Breakfast sofa to discuss new technologu to help visually impaired people

Chris being interviewed about new technology to help visually impaired people.

Chris took part in a trial of an amazing new device, currently at prototype stage, that equips blind people with extra tools and information when navigating city centres, including accessing public transport.

Speaking on Radio 5 live Chris described the headset as “your navigator, personal guide, transport information, local historian, all the (information about) shopping stuff… It’s absolutely incredible. And it’s the confidence it gives you. It was the first time I had done that route and it just felt so comfortable.”

The technology – developed by Microsoft, Guide Dogs and the UK government’s Future Cities Catapult – takes the form of a smart headset paired with a Windows Phone app, which has been designed for people with sight loss.

The headset is a modified pair of headphones, which hooks over the wearer’s ears and rests on their jaw bone, transmitting sound to their inner ear using vibrations. This means that the wearer can hear sound from the headphones and from their environment simultaneously.

Microsoft has added a small 3D-printed box on the back of the headset containing an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a compass, as well as a GPS chip, so that the user’s position can be tracked.

Click here for further media coverage of the device…