Queens Speech 2017: What It Means For UK Tech Over The Next Two Years

So the snap General Election has come and gone, with the result plunging parliament into chaos. Nevertheless, Theresa May is keeping her job as Britain’s Prime Minister and, as part of traditional ritual, she and fellow MPs have gone to the House of Lords for the reading of the Queen’s Speech.

In this tradition, the Queen attends the State Opening of Parliament (and her crown is driven to the palace in another car… Kind of voiding her emphasis on greener cars), to lay out the formal plans for the UK Government’s next two years - which touches many bases.

This year, it was easy to miss Her Majesty’s technology-based proclamations amongst the sea of points about Brexit and the nation’s security. But the formal plans for tech are a mixed bag of slightly terrifying and pretty awesome!

Data Protection Bill

Let’s kick off with what she said will be a new law to “ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data.” The Data Protection Bill will update the already existing data protection laws of 1998.

One such law will be a provision for social media companies to erase the data held about a child once they hit 18-years-old, which they say will “cement the UK’s position at the forefront of technological innovation, international data sharing and protection of personal data.”

But some of you may be thinking “Jason! You handsome devil. Isn’t this from the government who wanted to break the encryption to your messages and turn us into the world’s most advanced surveillance state?” 

Well, yes and thank you for the compliment there… The irony is pretty strong, and it’s about to get stronger. Another intention of the bill is to implement what’s called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR for short), which is a new law to increase data protection law across the European Union.

Yep. That’s right. The very organisation that 52% of Britain voted to leave. However, if we are to continue trading with Europe after Brexit, following this law is a requirement.

So much for taking back control…

Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill

Autonomous transport has been in the works for quite a while, even making a grand appearance in last year’s Queens Speech. Car insurance will soon cover the use of self-driving cars, so that “compensation claims continue to be paid quickly, fairly and easily.”

Under the new bill, coverage will be given for both when the car is manually controlled or driving itself, and owners will be made liable for accidents in automated cars under some circumstances (e.g. failing to install important updates, modding the in-car software).

Also, expect more electric charging and hydrogen refuelling points at motorway services & petrol stations.

Digital Charter

In order for the UK to become the “safest place to be online,” the Queen has said there will be a new digital charter.

The plan is to work with “technology companies, charities, communities and international partners,” to develop regulations for the web.

Her statement started well: “We strongly support a free and open internet.” Sighs of relief heard everywhere, up until she said the word “but.”

“But, as in the offline world, freedoms online must be balanced with protections to ensure citizens are protected from the potential harms of the digital world.”

This is an uncomfortably vague statement, which could mean the full extent of what the Tories have been planning or something we’re not even sure of. The Open Rights Group, a team who work for internet freedom, commented on this too:

“At this point, it is hard to know exactly what harms will emerge, but pushing enforcement into the hands of private companies is problematic. It means that decisions never involve courts and are not fully transparent and legally accountable.”

What this means is while it’s great that the Government want to work with companies who possess greater internet knowledge than they do, the incentive to maintain our freedoms has to be as great as removing illegal content. Independent or judicial oversight is a must for this Digital Charter, as free speech cannot be placed in the hands of private companies without any safety.

Space Industry Bill

Now for the cool bit. The Government wants its own version of NASA! You may have seen their plans to open a spaceport in Newquay or northern Scotland, but nothing concrete. 

Now, the Queen has specifically mentioned new rules to license commercial rockets and launch them on British soil. Nothing specific, but now’s the time they have to work on it. What a time to be alive.