Since I was appointed the DCMS Permanent Secretary in 2013, the department and its responsibilities have grown enormously. Half of the department’s policy work now relates to the digital and online sectors, which led to digital being added to our name in mid-2017, making us the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
The arrival of colleagues working on data policy and governance from the Government Digital Service this year saw digital and data policy unified in one place, giving DCMS the responsibility of looking across the whole spectrum of the digital economy.
Technology – good for growth, prosperity and social change
This is no small task. Our world-leading digital sectors are a major economic driver for the UK. Last year, venture capital investment in London’s tech sector reached an all-time high of £2.45 billion – more than Germany, France, Spain and Ireland combined. In 2017, there were nearly 2.2 million jobs in the UK digital economy, an increase of 1.5% from 2016.
Tech is a powerful force for good, driving economic growth, shared prosperity and positive social change. Yet, while we are committed to protecting and strengthening this sector to ensure the UK is the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, many people have legitimate concerns about their safety and security when they are online.
Staying safe and prospering online
Tackling these challenges in an effective and responsible way is critical if the tech sector is to continue to thrive. The public will only continue to embrace digital products and services if they have trust and confidence in them. The Digital Charter sits at the heart of our response to this challenge, aiming to agree norms and rules for the online world to create a thriving ecosystem where citizens have confidence that the Internet is a well-governed space.
A key part of this work is our Internet Safety Strategy, which supports everyone’s ability to access the benefits of the internet while staying safe. Research by (telecoms regulator) Ofcom and the (data protection regulator) ICO has shown that one in five internet users in the UK has suffered an online harm such as bullying and harassment. And although we have had success working with companies at a voluntary level in tackling certain harms like preventing terrorist use of the internet, more needs to be done across a growing range of online services.
In response to this, DCMS and the Home Office are working on a joint White Paper to be published early this year. It will set out our plans for an ambitious legal framework for tackling online harms, and will provide clarity for industry around their responsibilities to keep users safe. Alongside this, it will contain a wider programme of non-legislative measures exploring the critical role that education can play to improve the digital resilience of users, and the role technology itself can play in tackling user harm.
Technology as a solution
Technology can be used in a positive way by companies of all sizes to detect, prevent and address abuse – the use of data and artificial intelligence (AI) in particular. We want the UK to be at the forefront of global efforts of harnessing these technologies as a force for good. But advances in the ways we use data are giving rise to new and sometimes unfamiliar economic and ethical issues.
This is why DCMS has established the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to identify the measures needed to strengthen and improve the way data and AI are used and regulated. These steps will ensure the public retain confidence in the use of these technologies by delivering the best possible outcomes for society.
Help us drive change in tech sectors
Encouraging greater diversity in the tech sector is another way of ensuring the internet is a safer and more inclusive environment. It also drives growth by ensuring companies have access to the most talented workers.
On 23 January, the Digital, Data and Technology Profession will be hosting a roundtable event to explore how the Government could better partner with external organisations to more collectively drive diversity initiatives. I will chair this event in my role as Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Champion.
With our future workforce narrowed through the choices made much earlier in their education, we hope to come together to look at ways of collaborating to increase awareness and change perceptions of opportunities in digital, data and technology among people in education and, specifically, among underrepresented groups.