The Human Rights Committee, reviewing NHSX’s current digital contact tracing app architecture, has recommended that the government’s current privacy assurances are not sufficient to protect data privacy and that legislation must be passed to ensure that. This echoes Professor Lilian Edwards’ call for primary legislation to ensure privacy rights are protected. These recommendations are given special significance NHSX’s choice to adopt the controversial and arguably less secure “centralised” model (an explanation of the different contact tracing models and Prof Edwards’ suggested legislation can be found here).
Latest news: GCHQ has published a detailed blog article which seeks to explain (and defend) the new NHS contact tracing app, which the Government regards as the key to a controlled exit from lockdown.
Coronavirus presents a serious threat to society, legitimising the collection of public health data under Article 9:2 (g) of GDPR regulations, which allows the processing of such data if “necessary for reasons of substantial public interest”. Some of this collection will take the form of contact tracing apps, which have been used in containing the spread of coronavirus in countries such as Singapore.
They work by broadcasting a bluetooth signal from a smartphone which is picked up by other smartphones (and vice versa), meaning that if one user contracts coronavirus, those who have been in contact with that user can be effectively warned and given further advice to stop the spread.
NHSX, the body responsible for setting NHS data usage policy and best practice, has been developing a contact tracing app which is currently undergoing effectiveness trials at RAF Leeming. As it stands, the app either tells you “You’re okay now” or “You need to isolate yourself and stay at home”. It seems likely that this or a similar app will be rolled out over the UK in the coming months.
The Fisheries Bill 2020, part of the government’s core legislative program on post-Brexit environmental policy, is currently in the House of Lords at committee stage, and is expected to receive royal assent in the coming months (although exactly when is subject to how successfully the House of Lords can adapt to meeting via Microsoft Teams). It would establish Britain’s departure from the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) on January 1st 2021, and sets out how fishing rights would work post transition period and CFP.
Given the passion that fishing rights raise, you might be forgiven for thinking that they were absolutely essential to the functioning of the UK and EU economies. In fact, fishing accounts for around 0.1% of both. A joke going around environmental blogs is that green bills are like buses – none come when you need them, then they all arrive at once. Perhaps for the Environment and Agriculture Bills – discussed by me here and here. But the Fisheries Bill feels more like the Brexit Bus than a local routemaster. It promises the repatriation of sovereign powers and gains in the millions by taking back control of our waters, while hiding potential losses in the billions, if issues with fishing rights derail trade negotiations – a slim but real possibility.
Even the most entrenched remainer, however, would have to recognise the multiple failures of the CFP. It has been plagued by mismanaged quotas and outsized lobbying interests since its inception, and it has clearly favoured certain member states over others. The Fisheries Bill has as such been largely well received by environmental groups, such as Greener UK, who comment that the “focus on climate change and sustainability is very helpful”. I’ll start with what the bill actually says, then discuss the EU negotiation position and conclude with a few comments about what the legislation may mean for the future relations.
Good news from the crisis front, although I’m afraid not the one we’re all thinking of: the government’s Agriculture Bill, which sets out its major post-Brexit agricultural policy, has recently passed committee stage and will soon (coronavirus permitting) be presented to the House of Lords. It shows ambition from the government to develop a post-Brexit agriculture policy with laudable commitments to harnessing the power of farmers to help address the climate crisis, and helps to address issues such as food security. Along with the Environment Bill, discussed here, it constitutes some of the core legislation aimed at achieving the government’s Net Zero by 2050 goal.
The government’s haunting refrain, since their 2018 ‘Health and Harmony’ consultation on post-Brexit agricultural policy, has been “public money for public goods”. The bill puts this into practice by giving the secretary of state power to dismantle the subsidy schemes of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and replace it with the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Under this scheme, farmers will be awarded for specific activities with ‘public goods’: good practices that further environmental goals in areas such as biodiversity and soil health that the market does not sufficiently incentivise.
On 26th February, parliament held its second reading of the government’s revised Environment Bill 2020, setting out its agenda for environmental reform and governance post-Brexit. It would provide the secretary of state with powers to create new regulations on air quality, water usage, waste disposal and resource management, biodiversity, and environmental risk from chemical contamination, and would create a new non-departmental public body, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), as an environment watchdog. The government describes it as the most “radical” environmental legislation to date, and sees the bill as paramount to ensuring both its 25 Year Environment Plan and its Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050 goal.
The bill faced criticism both from parliament and from environmental groups. Greener UK, a coalition of 13 major environmental organisation, has said that as it stands, the bill “[would] not achieve what is has promised”, criticising it for lacking ambition and including no legal requirements for the government to prevent backsliding on EU environmental regulation. MPs, both Conservative and Labour, specifically criticised the lack of ambition in air quality. Others criticised the proposed structure of the OEP as being insufficiently independent of the government to match the ambitions of the bill to create “a world-leading environmental watchdog that can robustly hold the Government to account”.
The Bill in Brief
The bill, as it stands, is divided into eight sections, which can be grouped into three major areas: giving the secretary of state the power to amend regulations in areas of environmental concern, legally enshrining biodiversity targets, and creating an environmental watchdog called the Office of Environmental Protection. All three are intimately tied to Brexit, with the government intending to use the bill to “transform our environmental governance once we leave the EU”.
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