We currently produce huge amounts of data through our everyday activities – from using cashless payment systems to tweeting on social media. New technologies such as machine learning enable us to analyse and learn from this data on a large scale, gaining new knowledge and insights. The Royal Society and British Academy are undertaking a project to inform decisions over how these new uses of data can be governed.
Data-fuelled technologies offer potentially massive benefits including improving diagnostics in healthcare and creating more efficient transport and energy systems. However, the data generated through everyday activities and transactions can be used in ways we might not have imagined when they were created, and ways of merging datasets mean that private or potentially sensitive information about our lives may be revealed.
To realise the benefits of these technologies rapidly and safely in a way in which we can all have confidence, we need to develop appropriate mechanisms for making decisions about how we use data.
The UK has experience in creating successful frameworks that negotiate the complex relationships between the benefits and risks of technology development. Following the birth of the first test tube baby in the early 1980s, the Warnock Commission examined the social and ethical issues that fertility sciences had the potential to generate. The Commission recommended establishing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which gives independent, authoritative and trusted advice on the application of these sciences and technologies.
The issues around data use are potentially more complicated. Data collection and use affects us all every day, and we might have very different views about use of data depending on the way it is used and the benefits. Negotiating these varied uses and complex views is necessary to move forward. We believe that the UK’s experience in developing good science and technology governance will allow it to develop world leading standards of best practice for data use.
The Royal Society and British Academy project brings together lawyers, philosophers, historians, social scientists and computer scientists to better understand the key social and ethical aspects of data governance and how they are related. It will set out how to have a clear and connected debate across all aspects of data use, and will aim to identify how a governance framework for data can engender authority and trust. It will recommend how best to establish such a framework in order to allow constant innovation in data-driven technologies in a way that ensure public confidence, and that maximises benefits.
The project convened a seminar on 26 July 2016 on the governance of data and its uses, bringing together existing sectoral and disciplinary debates and gathered leading representatives from academia, government and business.
Submissions to our call for evidence
Submissions were received from the following organisations and individuals:
- Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS)
- Administrative Data Research Centre England (ADRCE)
- Alan Sturt (individual response)
- Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)
- Consumer Data Research Centre, UCL
- Genetic Alliance UK
- Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
- James Denman (personal response)
- National Data Guardian
- Newcastle University
- Nuffield Council on Bioethics
- Population Data Science, Swansea
- Privacy International
- Royal Statistical Society
- UK Statistics Authority
- Wellcome Trust