The Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), whose members include the ICO, CMA, Ofcom and (from April) the FCA , has published its 2021/22 workplan. The plan signals a new approach to coordinated regulation across digital and online services.

The regulation of digital developments and online services creates new challenges and involves new interplays between competition, data, content, and consumer issues. A key theme from our recent regulating digital podcast and webinar series was the importance of regulatory co-operation in this space - both regulators co-operating within their various departments and projects and closer cooperation between regulators. The DRCF is a promising example of the latter. It was established last July to ensure a greater level of cooperation between the ICO, CMA and Ofcom, and last week it published its plans for the coming year. It also confirmed that the FCA, currently an ‘observer member’, will join as a full member this April.

Focus on co-operation, coordination and a coherent regulatory approach

 The 2021/22 roadmap recognises the need for a more coherent, coordinated and clear regulatory approach across different sectors. It signals how these regulators will increase the scope and scale of their co-operation, including by:

  • pooling expertise and resources;
  • working more closely on online regulatory matters of mutual importance; and
  • reporting on results annually – it has committed to publishing an update and progress report in 12 months’ time.

Three areas of priority

Over the next year, the DCRF will focus on three priority areas:

 1. Responding strategically to industry and technological developments: They will establish joint projects on complex, cross-cutting issues, where cooperation will help provide clarity for businesses/users and regulatory coherence. The CMA’s recent research on algorithms, for example, will inform the future work of the DRCF and other projects will include research into service design, AI, digital advertising technologies (with the Advertising Standards Authority) and service encryption. Joint horizon scanning should also help identify future areas for cooperation.

2.  Joined-up regulatory approaches: The overlapping nature of digital regulation will be addressed by developing approaches to deliver coherent regulatory outcomes where overlap exists. Examples include the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code and Ofcom’s approach to regulating video-sharing platforms. The DRCF will also consider how new regimes for online regulation may interact with wider existing regulation such as financial regulation and intellectual property rights.

3. Building skills and capabilities: Regulators need to understand the fast moving areas they are regulating and so the DRCF will develop practical ways of sharing knowledge, expertise, capabilities and resources, for example in AI and data analysis. This may involve building cross-regulator specialist teams.

In addition, the forum will continue to work with other regulators with responsibilities for digital markets and strengthen its wider stakeholder engagement.

The task of successfully coordinating multiple regulators with different remits and goals in a fast moving area such as digital is a challenging one. However, for those organisations and advisors navigating the increasingly complex (and crowded) regulatory landscape, any commitments around increased cooperation and cohesion are to be welcomed. The plans of the DRCF also act as a useful reminder for (particularly larger) organisations to ensure that their internal teams are equally joined up. This should allow data/digital regulation, competition concerns and consumer interests to be viewed holistically when planning new digital projects, as well as when considering regulatory engagement.

Please see our Regulating Digital Hub for more information on our Regulating digital podcast and webinar series