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How will data and AI work for people and society after the UK General Election 2019?

We've taken a look at the five largest political parties’ manifesto commitments relating to data, AI, innovation, law enforcement and human rights.

Olivia Varley-Winter

26 November 2019

Reading time: 7 minutes

Data and democracy

There is support across different parties for using data to represent people and address inequalities in society.

The Conservatives pledge to use data within government to understand barriers that people face: “We will improve the quality of evidence and data within Government about the types of barriers different groups face, ensuring that fairness is at the heart of everything we do.”

The Labour Party commit to extend the use of measures of inequality in the workplace, and suggest new requirements on employers “to devise and implement plans to eradicate the gender pay gap – and pay inequalities underpinned by race and/or disability – or face fines”.

The Lib Dem manifesto supports a form of inspection and auditing for racial disparities: “if the criminal justice system cannot explain disparities between ethnic groups, then it must be reformed to address them.”

The SNP manifesto refers briefly to “data rights”, and suggests that after Brexit they would address this as an aspect of consumer rights. “We will stand up for consumers and push for greater devolution of powers over consumer protection to the Scottish Parliament.”

The Labour Party manifesto refers to empowering the public with a “charter of digital rights”. They have announced this as a prospective consultation, to consider powers to “challenge algorithmic injustice”, powers to “prevent the use of digital infrastructure for surveillance”, and “rights for individuals to protect access to and ownership of their data”.

The Green Party plan to introduce “a Digital Bill of Rights that establishes the UK as a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces.”

Citizens’ Assemblies

Several parties would convene citizens’ assemblies for participation in policy making. The Liberal Democrats plan to “[Convene] a citizens’ assembly to determine when it is appropriate for the government to use algorithms in decision-making.”

Data and AI for health

All parties plan to pursue stronger health and social care provision for people. Two manifestos discuss the use of patient data and AI technology in healthcare and for research.

The Conservatives would pass into law their NHS long term plan, which includes a significant commitment to ‘digitally enabled care’.

The Conservatives and Labour explicitly support investment in AI among “frontline” or primary healthcare technologies.

Conservatives: “We will overhaul NHS screening and use new technology and mobile screening services to prevent ill health. […] We will use frontline technology to improve patients’ experience, provide flexible working for clinicians, and help save lives.”

Labour: “[We will] invest more in primary care settings, modern AI, cyber technology and state-of-the-art medical equipment, including more MRI and CT scanners.”

Labour have underlined that there will be protections for patient data: “We will ensure data protection for NHS and patient information, a highly valuable publicly funded resource that can be used for better diagnosis of conditions and for ground-breaking research.”

Innovation and regulation

The Conservatives commit to 2.4 per cent of GDP to be spent on R&D across the economy by the mid-2020s.

Within this, they will “seek to ensure that the UK can generate a commanding lead in the industries of the future”, including “computing, robotics and artificial intelligence”.

Some Conservative spending would “go to a new agency for high-risk, high-payoff research”, which would operate at arm’s length from government.

The Liberal Democrats commit to investment to reach 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027 and a 3% target after that. They have further policies with the aim of harnessing the benefits of new technologies for the economy. This includes a Code of Ethics, to be named after Ada Lovelace, which would offer the scope for product regulation, ascribed to the government-funded Centre for Data Ethics & Innovation. More of their related policies are represented here:

  • Support the growth of new jobs and businesses in the tech sector by allowing companies to claim R&D tax credits against the cost of purchasing datasets and cloud computing, simplifying the regulatory landscape and speeding up regulatory change.
  • Ensure that new technologies are used in ethical and responsible ways by:
    • Introducing a Lovelace Code of Ethics to ensure the use of personal data and artificial intelligence is unbiased, transparent and accurate, and respects privacy.
    • Giving the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation the power to ‘call in’ products that appear to breach this Code.
    • Requiring all courses relating to digital technologies to include teaching about ethics and the Code specifically.
    • Introducing a kitemark for companies that meet the highest ethical standards in their development and use of artificial intelligence and other new technologies.
    • Convening a citizens’ assembly to determine when it is appropriate for the government to use algorithms in decision-making.
  • Develop a mechanism to allow the public to share in the profits made by tech companies in the use of their data.

Labour commits to reach a target of 3 per cent GDP being invested in R&D by 2030. They would form national green investment banks, and use public procurement to influence companies’ environmental performance and their ethical practices, e.g.: “require all companies bidding for public contracts to … demonstrate equalities best practice.”

Law enforcement and policing 

In proposals for immigration system reform, the Liberal Democrats would plan to move the powers to offer work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into other government departments, and would “establish a firewall to prevent public agencies from sharing personal information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement and repeal the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act”.

Three party manifestos discuss other reforms, for policing and national security:

The Conservatives commit to “empower the police to safely use new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, along with the use of DNA, within a strict legal framework”.

Conservatives would also bring into law a previously announced police covenant which refers to police responsibility and ethics: “We will put the Police Covenant into law to ensure they have the support they need.”

Two Liberal Democrat policies on civil liberties refer to surveillance powers, and promise to halt the use of facial recognition surveillance by police: “End the bulk collection of communications data and internet connection records. […] Immediately halt the use of facial recognition surveillance by the police.”

The Scottish National Party state their opposition to “Investigatory Powers” and “bulk powers to acquire the personal and private data of individuals”.

The Labour Party commit to “restore community policing by consent”, support democratically accountable local policing, and “work to eliminate institutional biases against BAME communities.”

The Green Party “want to tackle the underlying causes of crime more effectively than CCTV cameras, stop and search or draconian sentencing can ever do” – they promise to support community-based policing, alongside education and employment.

Across party manifestos the use of a net migration target has disappeared, although the Brexit Party say they would “reduce annual immigration”. All political parties have decried the Windrush scandal and the ‘hostile environment’ policy, in which people who migrated as children as part of the Windrush generation and were eligible for citizenship were placed at risk of detention and deportation.

Human rights

The Conservatives propose to update the Human Rights Act, after Brexit: “We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. […] In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth.”

Several other of the parties – Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party – explicitly support the Human Rights Act and its retention in UK law.

Have you spotted any other manifesto commitments that you think would change the use of data and AI for people and society?  #adamanifesto