On 20 November 2018, the UK government published its response (the “Response”) to the June 2018 consultation (the “Consultation”) regarding the proposed new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (“DEI”). First announced in the UK Chancellor’s Autumn 2017 Budget, the DEI will identify measures needed to strengthen the way data and AI are used and regulated, advising on addressing potential gaps in regulation and outlining best practices in the area. The DEI is described as being the first of its kind globally, and represents an opportunity for the UK to take the lead the debate on how data is regulated.

Together with the Consultation, the Response outlines the government’s position in relation to the detailed proposals on the DEI’s advisory remit and activities in relation to the following:

Role and Objectives of the DEI

The DEI will provide advice to the UK government on recommended measures to ensure safe and ethical innovation in data and AI. Further, it will work alongside existing regulators, institutions and stakeholders to “enhance” the way in which data and AI are used. However, the DEI will not act itself as a regulator.

Clarity in terms of the role of the DEI will be provided in an operational strategy publication, expected in Spring 2019, this is expected to include details of how the DEI will work in practice with different UK institutions, devolved administrations and stakeholder groups.

Activities and Outputs of the DEI

The DEI is described as having:

  1. analysing and anticipating gaps in governance and regulation that could impede the ethical and innovative deployment of data and AI;
  2. agreeing, articulating and supporting soft law in terms of ethical and innovative uses of AI; and
  3. advising government on more legislative specific policy or regulatory actions required to address or prevent barriers to innovative and ethical uses of data.

In terms of prioritising projects for the DEI to undertake, the Response proposes that this should reflect:

  1. the value generated by projects, in terms of their contribution to innovation and public trust in the ethical use of data and AI;
  2. the rationale for the DEI doing the work (relative to other organisations in or outside government); and
  3. the importance of undertaking projects, either to address issues which have been identified as urgent or to identify and anticipate longer term challenges.

The DEI has currently been commissioned to study the use of data in shaping people’s online experiences, and the potential for bias in decisions made using algorithms, with a progress update expected in summer 2019.

The Response reiterates that although the DEI is currently established on an initial pre-statutory basis, the testing of functions, subsequent findings and development of views will play an important role in shaping the final form of the DEI when it is inevitably given statutory basis.

Operation of the DEI

The DEI will initially be located in London, with the decision on the location of the statutory DEI to be decided in line with Cabinet office guidance and subject to an analysis of needs and impacts.

With regards to the DEI’s reporting mechanisms, it is currently provided that:

  1. the government responds to the DEI’s substantive recommendations no later than six months after the recommendations have been made; and
  2. the DEI is to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State outlining its recommendations, activities and progress to date, which the Secretary of State will put before parliament.

The DEI is to also publish periodic assessments of data use and governance, including any recommendations it has made, and the steps the government has taken to implement them. The first assessment is to be published at the end of the DEI’s initial pre-statutory phase of work, with the subsequent assessments published thereafter. Reports of the DEI will be made public, and – where possible and practical – board meetings will be open to the public.

DEI operations have already started following the publication of the Response. A list of the DEI’s chair and appointed board members can be found here.