A proposal to make 13 the age of consent for signing up to online services such as social media platforms came under fire in parliament yesterday. The House of Lords was holding its first debate on the Data Protection Bill, which is being rushed through parliament to ensure that the UK’s data protection regime aligns with that of the EU following Brexit.

The bill would transpose into UK law the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force next May. It also fills in gaps in the regulation and extends it to cover areas such as national security. 

Introducing the measure, minister for digital, culture, media and sport Lord Ashton of Hyde said: ’The bill meets and exceeds international standards, and with its complete and comprehensive data protection system will keep the UK at the front of the pack of modern digital economies.' In particular, it gives citizens more rights to know what is being done with data about them and to demand that data be deleted.  The legislation also creates a new offence of the unlawful re-identification of de-identified personal data and of of altering or destroying personal data to prevent individuals accessing it.

Opposition peers said they would support the legislation in general - while roundly criticising its drafting. Lady Lane-Fox of Soho (former web entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox) confessed she found it ’incredibly hard to read and even harder to understand’. 

Opening for the opposition, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Wilf Stevenson) welcomed the decision to ‘gold plate’ the EU legislation, especially in extending the data protection regime to the intelligence services for the first time. However he suggested there was a need for ’a broader and far more ambitious set of regulatory structures for data capitalism’. 

Stevenson was highly critical of the bill’s proposal that the age at which a child can consent to their data being processed online be set at 13, saying this ’would almost certainly be illegal under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the UK is a signatory’. 

The lord bishop of Chelmsford, the Reverend Stephen Cottrell, suggested the government had been too ready to adopt the age set by the web industry. 'A de facto standard age of consent for children providing their personal information online has emerged, and that age has been set by the very companies that profit from providing these services to children. It might be that 13 is an appropriate age for consent by children to give their information away online, but surely that should be decided in other ways and with much greater reference to the public, and I do not think this has happened,' he said. 

For the Liberal Democrats, Lord McNally (Tom McNally, former justice minister), was also critical of the web industry. 'These modern tech giants operate in a world where the sense of privacy which was almost part of the DNA of my own and my parents’ generation is ignored with gay abandon,' he said. 

The bill will now go to committee stage in the Lords.