On 22 May 2024, a call for a general election was confirmed triggering a wash-up period to allow government to debate essential legislation. Notably, the death of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill (DPDI Bill) was announced, confirming no reform to the current UK data protection landscape. 

As we await the upcoming elections on 4 July 2024, it is clear from the manifestos from major political parties that there is no immediate priority to resurrect major data protection reform. However, it is reasonable to expect the next government to introduce some sort of legislation with a particular focus on technology and AI – given that several manifestos pledge to promote technological innovation.

The Labour Party 

Unsurprisingly the Labour manifesto makes no express mention of data protection and instead focuses on commitments to developing the AI sector. Within this, Labour proposes an industrial strategy that supports AI development and removes planning barriers to new datacentres. There will be the creation of a National Data Library promoting data sharing from existing research to help deliver “data-driven public services”. The party also plan to establish a new Regulatory Innovation Office to help regulators “update regulation, speed up approval timelines, and co-ordinate issues that span existing boundaries”. With this in mind, Labour seem to go a little further than the current status quo on AI regulation, aiming to promote safe development and use of AI models and reduce harmful AI content by “introducing binding regulation on the handful of companies developing the most powerful AI models and by banning the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes”. 

The party seem to adopt a safety first approach with express intention to build on the Online Safety Act, “bringing forward provisions” and exploring “further measures to keep everyone safe online, particularly when using social media”. But it is unclear what specific measures Labour will adopt to achieve this. The Labour Party also aims to "introduce a new expanded fraud strategy to tackle the full range of threats, including online", working with tech companies to stop fraudsters exploiting their platforms.

More broadly, the concept of “digital” pops up several times throughout the manifesto. There is discussion about investing in “digital forensics”, ensuring children are digitally literate – developing “essential digital, speaking and creative skills”, and accessing international markets through standalone sector deals such as digital trade agreements. 

For further information see our article Navigating the UK's Digital Regulation Landscape: Where are we headed under Labour?

The Conservative Party

The Conservatives seem to align closely with the Labour Party’s perspective on online safety. In their manifesto, the party highlight their commitment to protecting children online, pointing to their Online Safety Act.  From next year, the Act will also include a legislative bite through the introduction of a legal requirement “for social media firms to protect children from illegal or harmful content online. This includes fining social media companies who shirk their responsibilities to keep children safe”. Additionally, the Conservatives intend to “legislate” to strengthen the law to punish predators, creating “new offences” which include the “creation of sexualised deepfake images” and the taking or sharing of intimate images without consent. 

Despite sponsoring the DPDI Bill, the Conservatives make no mention of a data protection reform and instead heighten their focus on “securing the UK’s position as a world leader in innovation” through AI. The manifesto states that there will be a continued investment of over £1.5 billion in large-scale compute clusters to take advantage of AI. Their aim is to also increase AI competitiveness, in the private and public sector, including reforming NHS processes through the Federated Data Platform and legislating “to deliver comparable data” across public services in the UK. Despite, or maybe because of, this pro-innovation approach there is little to no mention on future AI regulation. 

The Liberal Democrats 

The Liberal Democrats have been more vocal about regulating data in their manifesto. They propose the introduction of a Digital Bill of Rights to “protect everyone’s rights online, including the rights to privacy, free expression, and participation without being subjected to harassment and abuse”. Elsewhere the party plan to end the bulk collection of communications data and restrict data sharing, saying that they will establish a “firewall” to prevent “public agencies” from sharing personal data with the Home Office if it relates to immigration enforcement. Similarly, the creation of a new “Patients Charter” to protect patient data and provide patients’ the right to opt out of data sharing is also mentioned. The manifesto also presents a legislative change by proposing the repeal of the “immigration exemption” under the Data Protection Act 2018. 

The Liberal Democrats have also expressed their intention for the UK to become a world leader in ethical and inclusive technology and AI. They emphasise a need for a cross-sectoral regulatory framework for AI that: 

  • “Promotes innovation while creating certainty for AI users, developers and investors. 
  • Establishes transparency and accountability for AI systems in the public sector. 
  • Ensures the use of personal data and AI is unbiased, transparent and accurate, and respects the privacy of innocent people”.

The party’s intention is to “play a leading role in global AI regulation” and negotiating with international parties to establish a common set of AI standards for “risk and impact assessment, testing, monitoring and audit”. 

There is also a concern with balancing the power between tech companies and consumers, with the party setting out a UK-wide target for digital literacy, requiring all products to include a “short, clear version of their terms and conditions, setting out “key facts” relating to “individuals’ data and privacy”. Elsewhere, the party aim to introduce a legally binding regulatory framework for all forms of biometric surveillance - but with no mention of how this is to be achieved. 

The Green Party 

The plan to introduce a Digital Bill of Rights that establishes the UK “as a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces” has been put forward in the Green Party’s manifesto. Particularly, the party pledge to give the public “greater control over their data”, and suggest a public consultation is necessary when developing the bill to achieve this aim. 

As with some other major political parties, the Green Party also suggest regulating AI as they acknowledge how technology is transforming many industries. If elected, the party will “push for a precautionary regulatory approach” to combat “harms and risks” of AI. They aim to align their stance with “Europe, UNESCO and global efforts to support a co-ordinated response to future risks of AI”. 

The upcoming elections 

As discussed above, each manifesto dedicates significant attention to digital, technology and AI. While certain political parties emphasise reforms to boost privacy rights, this issue does not seem to be their primary focus. It will be interesting to see what direction the next administration takes on this matter, and if any reforms are introduced.