• Data out today shows fewer than half of businesses and charities are aware of new data laws.
  • Awareness in construction and manufacturing sectors is particularly low.
  • Organisations should follow ICO guidance as well as improve their cybersecurity.

Fewer than half of all businesses and charities are aware of new data protection laws four months before they come into force, according to new research released today.

Businesses in the finance and insurance sectors have the highest awareness of the changes to be brought in through the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is to be implemented in UK law via the Data Protection Bill in May 2018, as part of plans to help the UK prepare for a successful Brexit.

Businesses in the construction industry have the lowest awareness, with only one in four aware of the incoming regulation. Awareness is higher among businesses that report their senior managers consider cybersecurity is a fairly high or a very high priority, with two in five aware of the GDPR.

The survey finds that more than a quarter of businesses and charities that had heard of the regulation made changes to their operations ahead of the new laws coming into force.

Among those making changes, just under half of businesses and just over one-third of charities made changes to cybersecurity practices, including creating or improving cybersecurity procedures, hiring new staff and installing or updating antivirus software.

Speaking from Davos, where he is banging the drum for the UK’s world-leading tech sector and reaffirming the nation’s commitment to AI, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock said:

We are strengthening the UK’s data protection laws to make them fit for the digital age by giving people more control over their own data. And as these figures show, many organisations still need to act to make sure the personal data they hold is secure and they are prepared for our Data Protection Bill. There is a wealth of free help and guidance available from the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Cyber Security Centre, and I encourage all those affected to take it up.”

The UK tops the list in Europe for global tech investors, with its tech firms attracting more venture capital funding than any other European country in 2017. In December, it was named by Oxford Insights as the best-prepared country in the world for artificial intelligence (AI) implementation.

While in Davos, Mr Hancock will talk up the nation’s innovators in speeches covering policymaking for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Generation AI.

On the day new statistics on data preparedness are released, Mr Hancock makes clear the Government’s Data Protection Bill will provide people with the confidence that their data will be managed securely and safely, while also supporting those innovative businesses to maximise the potential benefits of increasing use of data in the digital economy.

The Bill will give the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) more power to defend consumer interests and issue higher fines, of up to £17 million or 4% of global turnover, for the most serious data breaches.

Organisations that hold and process personal data are urged to prepare and follow the guidance and sector FAQS freely available from the ICO. Its dedicated advice line for small organisations has received more than 8,000 calls since it opened in November 2017, and the Guide to the GDPR has had over one million views. The regulator also has a GDPR checklist and 12 steps to take now to prepare for GDPR.

There is still time to prepare and many organisations will already be compliant with the new rules. Businesses already complying with the existing Data Protection Act are well on the way to being ready for GDPR.

There will be no regulatory ‘grace’ period, but the ICO is a fair and proportionate regulator. Those who self-report, who engage with the ICO to resolve issues and demonstrate effective accountability, can expect this to be taken into account when the ICO considers taking action.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said:

“Data protection law reforms put consumers and citizens first. People will have greater control over how their data is used and organisations will have to be transparent and account for their actions. This is a step change in the law; businesses, public bodies and charities need to take steps now to ensure they are ready. Organisations that thrive under the new rules will be those that commit to the spirit of data protection and embed it in their policies, processes and people. The GDPR offers a real opportunity to present themselves on the basis of how they respect the privacy of individuals, and over time this can play more of a role in consumer choice. Enhanced customer trust and more competitive advantage are just two of the benefits of getting it right. Our website is packed with information to help your organisation to get prepared for May 2018.”

Businesses are recommended to follow free guidance on protecting themselves from online attacks published by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), such as the Cyber Essentials advice and the Small Business Guide.