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— Researchers and business leaders are pressing the U.K. and EU to secure Horizon association ASAP.
— We explore how political chaos scuppered Britain’s grand plan for tech.
— The ICO weighs in on Matt Hancock’s leaked WhatsApp messages.
Good morning and welcome back.
The sun is shining, its two days until the weekend and we’ve got a packed edition of Morning Tech U.K. All is well.
You can send your news, job moves, events and tips to Annabelle Dickson, Mark Scott and me. Find us on Twitter too: @TomSBristow @NewsAnnabelle @markscott82.
HORIZON NOW: The R&D sector is itching to get going with the Horizon program. It’s been three days since the Windsor Framework unlocked talks on the U.K. rejoining the European research program. The U.K. has been shut out of Horizon funding, which has a budget of almost €100 billion, for the last two years. But with the breakthrough on the Northern Ireland protocol, both sides are expected to meet for talks. In a joint statement today researchers across the U.K., Ireland and Europe urged them to hurry up.
Who signed: The signatories include key names from the R&D world and wider industry — the Wellcome Trust, Russell Group, the CBI, and the Campaign for Science and Engineering, among many others.
Eyes on the prize: It calls for the U.K. and EU to put “renewed efforts into constructive dialogue” to get the U.K.’s Horizon association “swiftly over the line,” urging them to not “lose sight of the prize.”
Win-win: Nicola Eckersley-Waites, head of innovation at the CBI, said Horizon association was a “win-win” for the U.K. and EU, and stressed how important it was for U.K. businesses and researchers. “It is about funding, but it’s also about the network and collaboration opportunities it gives the U.K. across Europe,” she added.
Time to intensify: Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan told us, just as the Windsor Framework was being announced on Monday, that the U.K. had been “working relentlessly for the last two years to try and get Horizon secured and association sorted.” She added: “We will certainly intensify those conversations to see whether this can break the deadlock.”
Hold up: But it’s not a case of simply re-joining. An agreement is in place from 2021, but the current program has already been going for two years, meaning the U.K.’s share of funding will have to be agreed. Asked at PMQs by former health minister Philip Dunne about whether Horizon negotiations had commenced since the Windsor Framework was announced, Rishi Sunak only committed to “continue to work with the EU in a range of areas — not just research collaboration.”
BYE-BYE BARCELONA: It’s the final day of MWC2023 in Barcelona. Follow our reporter Mathieu Pollet for the latest.
**A message from Google: “Olivia would like to download Toontastic 3D”. It’s not easy keeping up with kids and their devices. Google’s Family Link app sends a phone notification to let parents block or approve their child’s app downloads. So that’s one less thing to watch out for. Learn more.**
CAN THE DIGITAL STRATEGY PLEASE STAND UP? When the U.K. voted to leave the EU, Brexit was supposed to liberate the country from oppressive European regulation and allow politicians in Westminster to chart their own path. But when it comes to tech, those grand plans are still waiting to be turned into a reality. Read more from Mark here on how politics scuppered London’s grand plan for tech.
It’s not that the UK doesn’t have ambition. There are strategies on digital, innovation and data. There are proposals on online content, data reforms and digital competition. But industry watchers, civil society groups and even some officials complain that the never-ending cycle of digital ministers and ever-changing priorities from Westminster have left no one satisfied with how Britain’s digital ambitions are working out.
Two questions keep on coming up: What exactly does the U.K. want for its tech agenda? And how exactly is that going to be made a reality? With 18 months to go before the general election, there are too many answers — often conflicting — to those fundamental questions, leaving many to wonder where are the benefits (for tech) that were central to the Brexit promise.
NO RACING: EU competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, has cautioned against regulators competing to be the first to intervene in takeovers such as Microsoft’s $69 billion Activision Blizzard acquisition, Bloomberg reports.
HYPOCRITES: Beijing officials have hit back at EU governments for their TikTok bans suggesting they are hypocritical. Hypocritical, mich? The German health ministry, which has restricted the app for staff, is continuing to run its TikTok account because it isn’t “for official purposes,” POLITICO reports.
STAYING WITH CHINA: Belgium’s cybersecurity authority has attributed a cyber attack on a Belgian lawmaker to China, the FT reports.
OK COMPUTER: Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă surprised his Cabinet on Wednesday by introducing them to a new member — run completely on artificial intelligence, POLITICO reports.
DIGITAL DOLLAR TALKS: A top U.S. Treasury official announced Wednesday the formation of an interagency working group that will explore the possibility of issuing a central bank digital currency. More on POLITICO Pro.
TERROR AND THE OSB: The U.K.’s independent reviewer of terror legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, has been poring over the Online Safety Bill and discovered a potential loophole for terrorism content.
Three factors: Ofcom will have powers under the bill to serve “terrorism content notices,” but the scope for the regulator to do this varies depending on whether content is deemed public or private. To decide the severity of the response, it has to look at three factors (clause 203 in case you’re interested), including the number of people in the U.K. who can access the content, any restrictions on access, and the ease with which the content can be shared. The more public content is, the greater the scope to serve terrorism content notices.
Amendments: But that could exclude content on encrypted messaging app Telegram, Hall said in a briefing note. After testing the new law on Islamic State channels, Hall is now proposing amendments to the bill’s wording.
The loophole: Hall tested the new powers with a Telegram feature called joinlinks, which allow users to invite people to a private chat. IS uses private channels, but it is possible to scour public channels to find joinlinks to private channels. Is a joinlink therefore public or private? Under the current wording of the OSB, Hall said these joinlinks would likely fall outside of the OSB’s definition of “public content,” which is “too narrow and can be gamed.” He said four changes to the wording of clause 203 should eliminate this risk. You can read those suggested amendments in the full report here.
ICO DEPARTURE: Law firm Bird & Bird has appointed James Moss as a partner in its Privacy & Data Protection practice in London. James joins from the Information Commissioner’s Office, where he was legal director for regulatory enforcement.
BRUSSELS EXPANSION: The Tony Blair Institute is setting up a Brussels office, which includes a tech policy adviser, to work with other think thanks and EU institutions. The office director will be Seamus Jefferson. The new tech policy advisor will be announced next week.
TECH ENVOY: A new “tech envoy” spreading news of Britain’s science and tech ambitions is being sent to the Indo-Pacific region, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has announced. It follows a similar move in 2020 when Joe White was sent off to San Francisco to be Britain’s U.S. tech envoy.
PARKY PLOUGHS ON: Still no news on a Department for Science, Innovation and Technology minister in the House of Lords, but a government official tells us it’s been decided that Stephen Parkinson, the Theresa May-era special adviser, will continue to go out batting for the government on the Online Safety Bill in the Lords until it gets Royal Assent.
HANCOCK’S DATA: Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages are the talk of Westminster and now the ICO has weighed in on the Telegraph’s “lockdown files” scoop. The newspaper says the 100,000 messages from Hancock’s time as health secretary are the biggest government data leak since the expenses scandal. But have any data rules been breached? There is an exemption for journalism, particularly public interest journalism. “At this stage we do not see this as a matter for the ICO,” a spokesperson said.
But but but: The story raises “questions around the conditions on which departing members of government retain and subsequently use official information which need to be considered by organisations such as the Cabinet Office,” the spokesperson added.
Double standards? It also, once again, highlights that many ministers use WhatsApp, rather than emails, for government business, at the same time as they are cracking down on encrypted messaging services.
BE MORE INSTA: Mark Zuckerberg is making structural changes to Facebook to be more like Instagram, Insider reports.
THE ROBOT WILL SEE YOU NOW: AI robots are better at picking organs for transplants than surgeons, the Telegraph reports.
**A message from Google: Yoga. DJing. Engineering. Unicorns. When online family safety experts Internet Matters asked children about life online, three out of four kids said the internet was important for learning about things they don’t get taught in real life. But it’s not easy for us adults to know every app out there. To help, the Google Family Link app lets parents review, block, or approve every new download their kids request, and also see how long they spend with it. It includes parental controls for YouTube and the YouTube Kids app too, so parents know their kids are watching content that’s appropriate for their age, whether that’s cartoons or science experiments. Learn more about Google’s tools to help families be safer online here.**
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