The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has reported that the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) has published its first annual workplan, setting out its priorities for the upcoming year. 

The DRCF was established in the summer of 2020 by the ICO, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Office of Communications (Ofcom) to ensure increased collaboration between these organisations and greater harmonisation of regulation across digital and online services.  From April 2021, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will also join as a full member, having been an observer member until then.

The DRCF has a number of objectives, including:

  • its members working together to promote a rational approach regarding online and digital regulatory matters in various ways;
  • informing regulatory policy-making by utilising the DRCF’s combined experience to consider incipient digital policy challenges and develop solutions;
  • augmenting regulatory capabilities by combining knowledge and resources to equip all members with the necessary skills and expertise to perform their functions efficiently in digital markets
  • identifying future developments by advancing a common understanding of emerging digital trends;
  • increasing the effectiveness of regulators;
  • informing strategy and encouraging innovation by sharing expertise and knowledge.

The DRCF also aims to promote international engagement with regulatory bodies to share information and best practice in respect of approaches to regulating digital markets.

The 2021-2022 workplan outlines how the ICO, CMA and Ofcom will build upon their existing strong working relationships and enhance the nature and extent of their cooperation by combining their resources, experience and know-how and working more closely together in respect of online regulatory matters that are significant to them all.  Results will be reported on each year.

Since the creation of the DRCF, there have been a number of significant online and digital developments of relevance to regulators.  For example, new legislation was introduced in late 2020 giving Ofcom powers to regulate UK-established video-sharing platforms and the ICO’s new Age-Appropriate Design Code will become effective in September 2021.

Similarly, the Government is planning to create a Digital Markets Unit in the CMA to manage its proposed new pro-competition regime and also to introduce a new duty of care obliging companies take responsibility for their users’ safety regarding online harms.  The Government is also planning to put into operation the National Data Strategy and to launch a new Digital Strategy in respect of its approach to controlling and managing digital technologies.

To assist in preparing for these new duties, the workplan outlines how the DRCF will coordinate the regulatory approaches of its members and will prioritise three main areas, including: responding strategically to industry and technological developments; joined up regulatory approaches; and building skills and capabilities.  The DRCF will also seek to build better clarity through effective engagement and develop the DRCF further.

Regarding the first of the three main priorities, the DRCF plans to enter into joint strategic projects focusing on four main areas. These include design frameworks, algorithmic processing (artificial intelligence or AI), digital advertising technologies and end-to-end encryption.

Concerning harmonised regulatory approaches, significant priorities for the upcoming year will include the Age-Appropriate Design Code, the relationship between competition and data protection regulation and the regulation of video-sharing platforms and online harms.

In terms of building shared skills and capabilities, the workplan anticipates the DRCF’s members working collaboratively to enhance their combined technical and analytical competencies, considering models to assist with more efficient future experience and skills sharing and continuing to work closely with other regulators who are responsible for digital markets and are facing similar issues.

The DRCF has requested comments in respect of its workplan and areas of focus for the upcoming year.  It will be interesting to see what comments are received and whether observers believe that additional issues also need to be prioritised by the DRCF.