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A daily briefing on the political and policy decisions that impact the Tech sector across the UK.
Presented by Google
By TOM BRISTOW
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— It’s three weeks since the birth of Rishi Sunak’s new science and tech department — we’ve been talking to insiders about how it’s shaping up and what is coming next.
— Are you on our Power List of 20 of the most influential names in U.K. tech?
— Ofcom boss Melanie Dawes tells us about her plans for enforcing the Online Safety Bill.
GOOD MORNING and welcome to the first of many Morning Tech UKs. From today, POLITICO has entrusted me to bring you all the latest developments in the forever-changing world of U.K. tech policy. This newsletter will arrive in your inbox at 7 a.m., Monday-Friday, and is the first of its kind in the U.K.
Figuring out how to regulate tech is one of the defining challenges of our era. Our aim is to produce reporting and analysis that informs policy discussions — and perhaps even lead to better policymaking. But this is POLITICO, so we’ll be having fun with it too.
With that in mind, we’d love to hear from you, so do get in touch with tips, gossip, job moves, suggestions and encouragement.
Our crack team is Annabelle Dickson, Mark Scott and me, Tom Bristow. You can follow us on Twitter: @NewsAnnabelle @markscott82 @TomSBristow.
WORKING IT OUT: It’s been nearly three weeks since Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle created the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT — thank god, they didn’t include health) and we’ve been speaking to insiders about how it’s developing. You can read the full story here.
Brexit watch: Like everyone in SW1, DSIT officials will spend the day waiting for news of a potential breakthrough on Brexit talks. It matters to the department because Britain’s involvement in Horizon Europe research programs has been caught in the political crossfire of the row over trade arrangements in Northern Ireland. Decisions will need to be made soon over whether the U.K. pushes ahead with a plan B. In a sign of just how frustrated the science community is getting with the delays, DSIT felt the fury of scientists after it was reported that the old business department had handed back £1.6 billion of unspent funding because of the stand-off.
First things first: As well as (continuing) to worry about Brexit, DSIT staff have a few problems closer to home to keep them occupied. Major questions about DSIT’s budget, power and some key roles remain, but for the moment, the majority of science and innovation officials are still physically located in what was the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s HQ on Victoria Street. The secretary of state, Michelle Donelan, however, is in her old office in Whitehall, along with senior officials. This leaves the department without its own home for now. A move to new offices in the old Admiralty buildings is expected this summer. “The sooner we get into a new building the better,” a senior figure in the department said, speaking on condition of anonymity so they could talk openly.
Fun vs Cool: When faced with the choice of working on tech policy or sticking with the “Ministry of Fun,” as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was known, some officials opted to stay put. They obviously hadn’t seen DSIT’s new head of comms’ post on LinkedIn describing her new gig as the “Department of Cool.”
Soon, soon, soon: DSIT’s legislative priority is the Online Safety Bill, expected to come back to the House of Lords in March. Next up will be the Digital Markets Competition and Consumer Bill, which was due last year and will give regulators like the CMA more powers over tech companies. That is coming “this session as soon as parliamentary time allows,” a government spokesperson told us.
Data delayed: But they sounded a more cautious note on the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which seeks to replace GDPR. A spokesperson said it “remained a commitment” and would “continue its passage in due course,” but that is unlikely to come in this parliamentary session, which ends this autumn, minister Paul Scully said at an event organized by think tank Demos last week. “We’ve got a hell of a lot of legislation to get through,” the senior DSIT figure added.
Fab 5: DSIT will, the government said, bring together the five technologies of quantum, AI, engineering biology, semiconductors and future telecoms. Where are we with them? An AI white paper, quantum strategy and semiconductor strategy are all overdue. A government spokesperson said the semiconductor strategy would be published “as soon as possible,” while the AI white paper was also coming “soon.” They said a quantum strategy will be out “shortly.” Government comms teams will be running out of adverbs for these delays (soon).
Where to Ofcom? Responsibility for Ofcom, which will regulate the Online Safety Bill, appears split for now between DCMS and the new department. When Labour MP Chi Onwurah asked where Ofcom will report to Paul Scully replied last week, “work is ongoing.” “Total shambles,” Onwurah tweeted in response. But that hasn’t stopped it getting ready for the new bill, as my colleague Mark Scott reports below.
LET’S CONNECT: Mobile World Congress (MWC) starts today in Barcelona. If you’re there, say hi to our reporter Mathieu Pollet.
BEAR: Closer to home, the Bank of England holds its annual BEAR Research Conference today on digital tech and the future of finance.
SECURITY CHIEF QUIZZED: Sir Tim Barrow, the government’s National Security Adviser, will be questioned by the national security strategy (joint committee) at 4.20 p.m. today. He has the power to block corporate takeovers on security grounds.
WHO GAINS FROM AI? Representatives from Microsoft, the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Information Commissioner’s Office will discuss this at Chatham House at 5.30 p.m.
COMPETITION LAW PROS ASSEMBLE: Competition and Markets Authority chief Sarah Cardell, Digital Markets Unit Director Matthew Braovac and head of the Competition Appeal Tribunal Marcus Smith are among the speakers at the UK Competition Law summit near the Tower of London today.
**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.**
THE VIEW FROM OFCOM: Melanie Dawes, the regulator’s boss, isn’t waiting around. While politicians have yet to hammer out the finer details of the upcoming Online Safety Bill, the long-time civil servant — whose job will make her the face of the U.K.’s new digital regime — is confident the rules will be in place very soon. “It will happen, yes,” she told MTechUK late last year.
Attention has focused on Westminster. But Ofcom hasn’t sat around waiting for the rules to show up. They’ve gone on a hiring spree (everyone from Google’s Gill Whitehead to the NSPCC’s Tony Stower) and started asking platforms tough questions about how they are keeping people safe online. “We’re the only ones who have taken this forward so far,” she added in reference to Ofcom’s work versus those elsewhere — looking at you, European regulators.
Still, Dawes is well aware the UK can’t tackle online content alone. When we last talked to her, she was on her way to Washington to set up a global network of like-minded enforcers to swap notes and share tactics. (Though a grouping of the U.K., Australia, Fiji and Ireland do not make a global consortium.) The Ofcom boss is expected to head back stateside sometime next month.
“This is about setting up our international engagement in expectation of setting up our rules,” she told us — though neither she nor the other global regulators invited anyone other than the Irish from the European Union (awks). “Ofcom has an existing strong set of relationships,” she added. “I’m confident we can establish strong partnerships.”
BRUSSELS: European officials are beginning to pitch the EU as a welcoming place for crypto businesses to set up shop as it prepares to activate new laws tailor-made for digital asset companies, POLITICO’s Zachary Warmbrodt and Bjarke Smith-Meyer report.
WASHINGTON: Google is in trouble with the Department of Justice for urging employees to discuss sensitive subjects by chat which would then be deleted after 24 hours, Bloomberg reports.
BEIJING: The country’s tech rainmaker has vanished, along with business confidence, the New York Times reports.
THE G20: Welcome to our first (but by no means scientific) U.K. tech power list. We spoke to Whitehall advisers, policymakers and lobbyists to identify 20 names in different sectors including politics, lobbying, regulation and venture capital. Alongside some of the more obvious ones, there are lesser-known figures and we hope you’ll find it a useful who’s-who of the U.K. tech policy world.
Disclaimer: Take a look and you might even find your name on it. And if it isn’t, apologies, there is always next year. Agree, disagree with our choices? Let me know who you’d include.
RECRUITMENT DRIVE: There are plans afoot for DSIT to recruit a powerful new “chief technology adviser,” who would be tasked with working with the rest of the civil service to deliver the PM’s science and tech vision, according to a Whitehall official. Over at No. 10 another well-placed official tells Morning Tech UK they are also potentially on the hunt for a new tech point person at the heart of government. Jean-Andre Prager, the well-regarded and long-serving special adviser who has been doing tech, already oversees DCMS in the Downing Street policy unit, and has the work and pensions brief in his portfolio too. Busy man.
MORE FOR JOB HUNTERS: The newly-minted Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) is looking for a program director. You can attend a live Q&A on March 3 at 2 p.m. to find out more from CEO Ilan Gur. Meanwhile, the ICO is looking for press officers.
ONWARD AND UPWARDS: Center-right think tank Onward is on the hunt for a head of science and tech and senior researcher in the field. Director Seb Payne posted the details here.
AI BOOTCAMPS: Politicians could be put through their paces on the ethics of artificial intelligence at a new Oxford institute bankrolled by Stephen Schwarzman, the co-founder of the private equity firm Blackstone. Saturday’s Times spoke to Schwarzman about his new Institute for Ethics in AI.
NO SIGNAL: Signal President Meredith Whittaker told the BBC her company “would absolutely, 100 percent walk” if the Online Safety Bill undermines encryption. The government has long insisted the legislation does not ban end-to-end encryption, but says technology shouldn’t diminish public safety.
TIKTOK BAN? The U.K. is at risk of “lagging behind” the EU and U.S. by not banning TikTok for government officials, POLITICO’s Stuart Lau reports.
Morning Tech wouldn’t happen without editor Oscar Williams.
UPDATED: This newsletter has been updated to clarify when we spoke to Melanie Dawes.
**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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