Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority to take charge of state’s wind farm noise complaints

The new regulations are being introduced after residents in South Gippsland won a major legal battle against the 52-turbine Bald Hills Wind Farm in August last year.

In that case, the wind farm had launched a legal challenge against the validity of a report produced by the South Gippsland Shire that found noise from the project caused a nuisance for residents.

However, the Supreme Court upheld the South Gippsland Shire’s report, ruling there was no error in the council’s findings.

At least two fresh legal challenges against separate wind farms are underway in Victoria.


A state government spokeswoman said the new laws would simplify the regulation of wind farms in Victoria and provide certainty for investors and local communities.

“Wind farms are vital for Victoria’s future,” she said.

“Wind farms play an important role in achieving the Victorian renewable energy targets while creating jobs and driving down carbon emissions.”

South Gippsland Shire chief executive Kerryn Ellis said the new laws meant councils would be spared expensive legal disputes about wind farm noise.

The Bald Hills Wind Farm in Tarwin Lower, South Gippsland Credit:Benjamin Preiss

“The council supports the change as it will provide clear regulation guidelines and a consistent process both for the industry and communities right across Victoria,” she said.

Ms Ellis said councils had previously been required to investigate noise complaints under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which she argued was not created to deal with large-scale operations, including wind farms.

“The experience has been that it’s a complex, convoluted process that’s very costly for all parties.”

The sound level requirements for wind farms will remain the same under the new regime.

But the lawyer who represented residents in the Bald Hills case, Dominica Tannock, said the new laws would make it harder for neighbours to launch challenges against wind farms based on noise.


She argues that local councils had been obligated to act when residents complained about noise, but this option would no longer be open to neighbours of wind farms.

Ms Tannock said councils should also take responsibility for managing noise created by projects within their own boundaries.

“They’re encouraging them to be built in their area,” Ms Tannock said.

However, she agreed that councils did not currently have the expertise to measure noise properly, and they should have access to EPA experts.

Ms Tannock said she supported renewable energy, but wind farms had to be built in appropriate places.

“This is not a fight over renewable energy or a fight over wind farms.”

She is representing residents in Hawkesdale in south-western Victoria who are challenging plans to extend a permit for a wind farm.

In a separate case, she is also representing residents who are mounting a fresh legal challenge of noise compliance at Bald Hills Wind Farm.


A Bald Hills Wind Farm spokeswoman did not comment on the new challenge.

But she said the company welcomed the government’s decision to transfer wind noise regulation from local councils to the EPA.

“Wind farm noise assessment is a complex area that needs a scientifically rigorous and standardised approach,” she said.

The spokeswoman confirmed the wind farm had engaged acoustic experts to conduct “extensive noise monitoring” to demonstrate it was complying with planning permit requirements.

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Child protection police officer pleads not guilty to grooming charges of 15yo girl

On the first day of his District Court trial in Brisbane, 33-year-old Matthew Paul Hockley pleaded not guilty to two counts of child grooming and one count of using the internet to procure a child under 16.

During opening submissions, the prosecution told the court Mr Hockley was a serving senior constable at the Inala child protection and investigation unit in Brisbane’s south-west in 2019, when he interviewed the teenager in relation to an incident involving the sharing of explicit images of her and her ex-boyfriend.

Crown prosecutor Judy Geary said shortly after the interview, Mr Hockley had added the teenager on the social media application Snapchat, telling her who he was and adding that he wanted to “make sure she was being safe online” before sending her a photograph of himself.

The court heard the teenager had told her mother about the communication, who told her that it was “good” he had added her, and who later thanked the officer for “looking out” for her daughter.

Ms Geary said the prosecution would allege that over the course of several weeks, Mr Hockley sent a series of messages to the teenager that escalated from innocuous to a mostly sexual and inappropriate nature, and that the 15-year-old became “increasingly uncomfortable” with their communication.

On one occasion, Ms Geary told the court Mr Hockley, who would refer to the teenager as “cute” and “beautiful”, had sent her messages about “young girls” being sexually involved with “older men”.

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Protection plates – Why Corsican number plates are popular | Europe

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COVID-19: Vaccines giving 67% protection after three weeks, large-scale research shows | UK News

One dose of a COVID-19 vaccine gives 67% protection after three weeks, a leading epidemiologist has said.

Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, who runs the ZOE COVID-19 surveillance app, said data collected from 50,000 users vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Oxford/AstraZeneca jab showed one dose gave 46% protection after two weeks, rising to 67% after three to six weeks.

The app uses information submitted by more than four million users across the world to predict and track coronavirus infections across the UK and other countries.

“We have now got about a third of a million people who have logged their first dose of the vaccine with us on the ZOE app,” Prof Spector told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday

“We are showing very low levels of side effects and we’ve showed that after three weeks we’re getting a 67% protection against the virus, so three times less risk than you’d be getting otherwise compared to an unprotected control.

“That is a better rate than people had thought just on a single jab so I think that, combined with the data we’re seeing, has given me a lot of reason to be optimistic that we are going to be in a much better place in two to four weeks’ time and can start to reduce some of these restrictions.”

Asked about the sample size, he said: “We have analysed around the first 50,000 people so it is a large sample and these are healthcare workers who are at high risk, so they are the ones you would see changes in most and we’re seeing a consistent fall, with no protection at all in the first two weeks… but after two weeks it drops to around 46% and after three to six weeks it is 67%, which is really great.

“If that was around the country, we would have really knocked this virus on the head.”

Professor Tim Spector has been examining collected data on vaccine efficacy

The figure was calculated using “large-scale, real-time data” from two control groups of healthcare workers – one group vaccinated and one not. The level of protection was measured against a PCR proven infection compared to a control group of same age and gender also reporting on the app.

Different studies suggest different effectiveness for one jab of the two vaccines currently on offer – the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs.

According to Pfizer data from December 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is roughly 52% effective 12 days on from the first dose. This rises to 95% with a second jab.

And data from Israel’s vaccination programme suggests one jab could offer just 33% protection.

This was contradicted by a UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation study which found one Pfizer jab to be 89% effective, rising to 92% with a second jab.

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Meanwhile, according to a scientific paper in the Lancet from January, the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab offers protection of 64.1% 21 days after one dose and 70.4% after two doses.

On Wednesday, early results of the vast UK study on the impact of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rollout suggests that the level of protection from one jab was about 60% to 65%.

The results applied to vaccine recipients of all ages, and protection began after two weeks.

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‘Come forward and get jabbed,’ says national medical director for England

A draft has been sent to the government but on Wednesday Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said he was not publishing its results yet because he wanted more data.

The figures, first reported in The Sun and confirmed by a Whitehall source, showed that one dose reduced the symptomatic infection risk by 65% in younger adults and 64% in over-80s.

Protection for those given two shots rose to between 79% and 84%, depending on age.

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J&J’s one-shot COVID vaccine offers hope for faster protection

A technician preparing a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for use in a clinical trial.Credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty

Another vaccine has been shown to protect against COVID-19 — and this time with only a single dose.

On 29 January, the pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson (J&J) of New Brunswick, New Jersey, announced that its vaccine was 66% effective overall in protecting against moderate to severe COVID-19, 28 days after a single shot. The vaccine was tested in a phase III trial involving nearly 44,000 participants in the United States, Latin America and South Africa.

An effective single-dose vaccine would be a welcome boost to efforts to quell the pandemic — it would offer faster protection than most of the vaccines approved for use so far, which are administered in two shots given weeks apart.

But although the vaccine was 72% effective in the United States, it was only 57% effective in South Africa, where a variant of the virus that can evade some immune responses has been spreading. The vaccine was 66% effective in Latin American countries, including Brazil, where other worrisome variants have been discovered.

These data echo findings announced by Novavax, a company in Gaithersburg, Maryland, that reported its coronavirus vaccine was less effective in a trial conducted in South Africa than in the UK arm.

These vaccine studies illustrate the implications of emerging coronavirus variants, said Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. “Now we have the real-world, clinical consequence, and we can see that we are going to be challenged,” he told reporters at a press briefing. “It’s really a wake-up call for us to be nimble and to be able to adjust as this virus will continue for certain to evolve.”

Encouraging results

Although J&J’s vaccine was less effective in South Africa, protection specifically against severe COVID-19 held steady at 85% across all the geographic regions studied, said Mathai Mammen, global head of Janssen Research and Development, a subsidiary of J&J. The company plans to conduct further studies to evaluate the effect of variants on efficacy, he said, and to look at the vaccine’s impact on disease transmission.

The vaccine’s overall efficacy is well below that of some other coronavirus vaccines: vaccines produced by Moderna in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Pfizer of New York City were both about 95% effective. But the results are still encouraging, says Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, UK. “As with any vaccine, it’s about how you deploy it,” he says.

J&J will apply to the US Food and Drug Administration for an emergency-use authorization in the coming days, and will then apply to other regulators including the European Medicines Agency.

A fresh source of vaccines will be welcome: despite a steady trickle of promising results since last November, limited supplies and surging coronavirus infections have left many countries counting on additional vaccines to break onto the market. J&J aims to produce one billion doses of its vaccine by the end of the year.

Easier logistics

Most other authorized COVID vaccines rely on two shots to provide protection: an initial dose followed some weeks later by a “booster” to stimulate the immune system’s memory cells. The result is a powerful immune response, but the two-dose requirement halves the number of people who can be vaccinated with existing supplies.

And bringing vaccine recipients back for their second dose can be a logistical challenge, particularly with people who are homeless, use substances, or who live in rural areas, says Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “The J&J vaccine offers a whole set of potentially easier logistics,” she says, “particularly for certain patient populations that are hard to reach.”

The vaccine works in a similar way to the one produced by AstraZeneca of Cambridge, UK, and the University of Oxford, UK — it uses a harmless virus to shuttle the genetic code for a coronavirus protein called spike into human cells. This means that the J&J vaccine can be stored in normal refrigerators, making it much easier to work with than the RNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. Pfizer’s vaccine, for example, has to be stored at very cold temperatures and only remains stable at room temperature for a short time. “You have to be so precise with calculating who you are going to vaccinate,” says Kuppalli. “Once you thaw the vaccine, you only have six hours to give it.”

These logistical hurdles have contributed to slow vaccine roll-out in some countries, while others are still struggling to obtain enough doses. J&J has pledged to provide its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic, and in December the company entered into an agreement-in-principle to provide hundreds of millions of doses to COVAX, an effort to distribute vaccines to lower income countries.

J&J is now conducting a separate trial to test the efficacy of a two-dose regimen of its vaccine.

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Breaking quarantine may constitute health protection violation, lead to fine or prison term

A FAILURE TO COMPLY with a quarantine order issued by a physician of infectious diseases may constitute a health protection violation in Finland, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

If the person is ruled to have transmitted the new coronavirus to others deliberately, their actions may be punishable under other sections of the criminal code – as, for example, endangerment of health or even assault.

Reports from Thursday suggest that the British variant of the new coronavirus has caused a large cluster of roughly 30 further infections and 400 quarantine decisions. Taneli Puumalainen, the head of infectious diseases control at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), said the carrier had neglected to follow quarantine instructions following their return to Finland from Great Britain.

“The quarantine instructions weren’t followed, but there was a get-together of young people,” he was quoted as saying by Helsingin Sanomat.

Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) on Friday said the government would convene at the start of this week to weigh up adopting sanctions for quarantine violations. Helsingin Sanomat on Monday asked Kimmo Nuotio, a professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki, to specify the punishments that can be handed down for quarantine violations.

Nuotio reminded that although the legislation as a whole has taken infectious diseases into consideration, it also assumes that people act responsibly and, as a result, does not place too much emphasis on criminal law in the context of infectious diseases.

A self-monitored quarantine is recommended, for example, for people returning from regions with a high incidence of coronavirus infections and people waiting for the results of a coronavirus test. An official quarantine, on the other hand, is ordered by a physician of infectious diseases and entitles the quarantined person to sickness allowance.

Violating the official quarantine may constitute a health protection violation, which carries the penalty of fine or up to three years in prison. If the person is ruled to have transmitted the virus on purpose, their actions could be interpreted as endangerment of health or aggravated endangerment of health, which carry the maximum penalties of four years and 10 years in prison, respectively.

“The health endangerment offence would require you to spread out your handkerchiefs on the metro or sneeze in a bus,” told Nuotio. “The person would have to know their own status and behave in a way that they know they’re spreading the disease.”

“Aggravated endangerment of health would mean that you’re actually causing a serious health risk to a large group of people on purpose.”

Violating a quarantine could also constitute attempted assault or assault, according to Nuotio. “Assault is directed more at an individual. Applying that [offence] would require that the other person gets sick and their health deteriorates.”

A person breaking the quarantine could also be committing imperilment, which is defined as placing another in serious danger either intentionally or through gross negligence and carries the maximum penalty of two years in prison.

“These are fairly different clauses, but they all require a degree of deliberation – except for imperilment. Even imperilment requires that the person has inferred that they have Covid-19,” said Nuotio.

“You could theoretically think of deliberation as someone intentionally being unaware of their infection – someone inferring that they have an infection but not getting tested.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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Investigations caseload blows out in Tasmanian child protection service, according to Productivity Commission

New figures reveal Tasmanian children who are the subject of child protection investigations are being exposed to blowouts in the time taken to begin and conduct inquiries — and the situation is getting worse.

The annual Productivity Commission Report on Government Services has revealed Tasmania took more than 29 days to begin child protection investigations in 78 per cent of cases in 2019-20, with just 6.9 percent opened within seven days.

The figures have been steadily rising since the Liberal Government came to power in Tasmania in 2014.

In 2013-14, 44 per cent of investigations were opened within a week, and just a quarter of investigations took more than four weeks to be opened.

Queensland recorded 40.5 per cent of investigations taking more than 29 days to begin last financial year, followed by New South Wales at 10.4 percent, however the report cautions that the data is not comparable across jurisdictions.

The number of Tasmanian child protection investigations taking longer than three months to complete has also skyrocketed — rising to 72.9 percent in 2019-20, from 22.4 per cent in 2013-14.

The next highest rate was recorded by Western Australia, at 38.3 percent, but the report said that data also was not comparable.

According to the Productivity Commission, the proportion of child protection investigations in Tasmania where claims were eventually substantiated was 89.5 per cent in the past financial year — the highest figure recorded across the country, and the highest rate recorded for the state in at least a decade.

New South Wales and Victorian investigations were substantiated in just over 52 per cent of cases.

The cost for each child protection notification that is investigated in Tasmania also rose substantially, to $6,154 in 2019-20, up from $3,862 the previous year.

The Tasmanian Government has undertaken a redesign of the state’s child protection system since being elected nearly seven years ago.

In a statement, Human Services Minister Roger Jaensch said the Productivity Commission child protection data remained stable across the majority of indicators, despite challenges presented by the pandemic in the last part of the reporting period.

“The Government remains committed to the Strong Families, Safe Kids reforms, and we are already seeing the benefits through improved service provision to families, children and young people across Tasmania,” he said.

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COVID-19 cross-protection? When vaccines provide ‘bonus’ protection against other diseases

Those of us who avoided COVID-19 over the past year may be somewhat surprised to learn there’s a good chance we’ve already been infected by at least one coronavirus.

They’re thought to be behind up to a third of all common colds. And intriguingly, evidence emerged last year that suggested people who were previously exposed to a common cold coronavirus might have some protection against COVID-19.

So could this cross-protection go the other way? Might the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out now also cause a dip in seasonal coronaviruses?

While it’s too early to tell, it’s possible. But perhaps not in the way you’d think.

How colds may boost COVID-19 immunity

First, it’s worth looking at how vaccines generate an immune response, and how they compare to real infections.

Vaccines use parts of viruses or bacteria to train what’s called our adaptive immune system.

This part of our immune system protects us against specific microbes. It primarily involves molecules, called antibodies, that neutralise an invading pathogen.

In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, antibodies are made against the virus’s spike protein, which the virus uses to worm its way into our cells.

Your body needs quite a lot of energy to manufacture antibodies, so — ideally — vaccines also establish a few pathogen-specific immune cells called memory T cells and B cells that hang around long after the initial burst of antibodies has waned.

If a pathogen shows up again, T and B cells spring into action, once again churning out antibodies and eliminating infected cells.

When it comes to contracting an actual coronavirus infection, your body produces an immune response to many parts of the virus — not just its spike proteins.

For instance, they might also produce antibodies against other proteins embedded in the coronavirus’s fatty protective layer.

This means that if another coronavirus — perhaps SARS-CoV-2 — shares these proteins, you might have some level of immunity against it as well.

Might COVID vaccines protect against other coronaviruses?

If they do, it’s unlikely that antibodies generated by jabs will play a role, says Kirsty Short, a virologist at the University of Queensland.

A non-COVID coronavirus would need spike proteins to be incredibly similar to those on SARS-CoV-2 for antibodies to recognise and destroy them.

Antibodies latch onto viruses like a lock and key. If the virus protein key is the wrong size or shape for the antibody lock, nothing happens.

But there is a chance that T cell immunity might step up against other coronaviruses. That’s because for them, the shape of a viral protein isn’t quite as important. They recognise smaller bits of viral proteins in the form of short chains of amino acids, or linear peptides.

“Some of those peptides are shared between seasonal coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2,” Dr Short says.

And while measuring antibody levels from a blood test is relatively straightforward, it’s not as easy to find out what T cells get up to after a COVID-19 jab.

“In terms of T cell responses, they become a little bit more complex,” Dr Short says.

“The type of peptides that my T cells present to the immune system are going to be different to the type of peptides that your T cells will present.

“That just relates to individual genetic differences.”

Shoring up our first line of defence

There is another way vaccines can boost our immune response against other diseases.

The adaptive immune system is just one part of our immune system. We also have our innate immune system.

It’s our first line of immune defence and responds faster than the adaptive immune system, but it doesn’t target specific pathogens. It goes for all of them.

So if you scrape your knee, your innate immune system quickly produces molecules and recruits and activates immune cells to the area to destroy any bacteria or viruses in the wound.

And for a long time, researchers thought immune system memory, involving B and T cells, was solely part of the adaptive immune system.

But in recent years, scientists have found our innate immune system also has an element of memory.

This is called “trained immunity”, and some vaccines trigger this memory response, Dr Short says.

“Mostly, it’s live vaccines that seem to do it, like the MMR vaccine and live polio vaccine.”

It’s a concept being explored by Nigel Curtis, paediatric infectious diseases physician and scientist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

He and his team are running an international clinical trial to determine if the tuberculosis vaccine — called Bacillus Calmette-Guérin or BCG — can help protect against severe COVID-19 in healthcare workers.

The BCG vaccine contains live but weakened bacteria that stimulate the immune system, but without causing disease.

A hand in a blue glove holding a small brown vial
The BCG vaccine was developed from a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis, which is similar to the bug that causes tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.(ABC News)

While it helps prevent tuberculosis, it also protects against a wide range of other diseases.

And it’s only in the past decade that immunologists have unpicked some of the mechanisms behind it.

Very simply, the BCG vaccine induces metabolic changes in some of the cells involved in the innate immune system, and this affects how they express certain genes.

Overall, it means your innate immune response better deals with any subsequent infections, Professor Curtis says.

“The idea is that you have BCG, and you induce these changes, then when you get infected with SARS-CoV-2, your response to that virus or any virus — because it’s completely agnostic to pathogen — is stronger than it would be in someone who hadn’t previously had BCG.”

Because it’s a general enhancement, it’s not technically cross-protection, and the BCG vaccine should not considered a replacement for COVID-19 vaccines, he adds.

Instead, it’s something that may stop you from becoming severely ill, should you be infected.

The goal of the work is to pinpoint the specific compounds that induce trained immunity.

“What we want to do is find out exactly what those key components are and, once we do that, we can make something that’s perhaps better than BCG — something you’d give to everybody to induce a better immune response early or even later on in life,” Professor Curtis says.

Cross-protection and HPV

One vaccine that granted some cross-protection was the human papillomavirus or HPV jab.

Of the more-than-200 HPV strains, around 40 are sexually transmitted. Two of those strains, 16 and 18, cause more than 70 per cent of cervical cancers worldwide.

Australia kicked off its HPV vaccination program in 2007 with the Gardasil vaccine, which vaccinated against types 16 and 18, as well as 6 and 11 — strains that don’t cause cancer, but are responsible for around 90 per cent of genital warts.

Suzanne Garland, a clinical microbiologist, sexual health physician and director of the Women’s Centre for Infectious Diseases in Melbourne, led a team that assessed HPV prevalence in Australian women eight years after the rollout started.

As well as finding Gardasil prevented HPV 16 and 18 infection, they also found vaccinated women were far less likely to be infected by a further three cancer-causing HPV strains when compared to unvaccinated counterparts.

Those additional strains were genetically similar to those targeted by the vaccine. Types 31 and 33 were much like 16, while 45 was close to 18.

Professor Garland calls this cross-protection a “bonus”, but why it happened in some women and not others isn’t clear.

The latest generation HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, covers nine high-risk strains — including 16, 18, 31, 33 and 45 — which are responsible for 93 per cent of cervical cancers.

It was only introduced to the National Immunisation Program in 2018, “so it’s important that women who were vaccinated as schoolgirls have regular cervical screenings, because … you’re still at risk of infection and disease for the types not covered by the vaccine”, Professor Garland says.

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‘Most Significant’ Data Leak Thus Far, Cyber-Security Researchers Call For Major Issues Due To Disclosure

A “huge trove” of information that was scraped from more than 214 million Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts went into a grandiose data leak and are now stored on an unsecured server. This was according to cybersecurity researchers.

In a report provided to exclusive media, the Safety Detectives cybersecurity teams have claimed that around two million Australian social media users were among those found on a database belonging to Chinese social media management company Socialarks.

They also made a view of a screenshot that displays the details of many Australian Facebook users from most states and territories.

As the majority of information is already publicly viewable on social media, it’s claimed in some cases phone numbers or email addresses were listed that weren’t disclosed on profiles.

Anurag Sen, the lead researcher, who searches for online vulnerabilities, was able to access more than 400GB of data and more than 318 million records that were left “completely unsecured … without password protection or encryption”.

According to him “From the leaked data we discovered, it was possible to determine people’s full names, country of residence, place of work, position, subscriber data and contact information, as well as direct links to their profiles.”

He added that whilst most of the data-scraping was made for legitimate business and marketing purposes, should it lack proper protection in storage, criminals could potentially gain access to it and use it for identity fraud or to target people with scams.

Also, Sen is working with his team, which runs the world’s largest antivirus review website. As per their claims, the database was secured after they reported the issue to Socialarks.

Although data-scraping is not illegal, it is against the terms and conditions of large social media companies.

Alastair MacGibbon, former National Cyber Security Adviser and Head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, now CyberCX Chief Strategy Officer, has told media such companies had a responsibility to secure and prevent bots from scraping user information. 

He said “they should be able to detect when a computer is accessing a million records in the space of a few minutes, and they need to shut it down. They need to understand that information is being entrusted with them by the individual, who would expect them to stop mass scraping. “

He emphasized that although it is not private data, its information was given to a website for a specific purpose and in turn, users expect it to only be used for that purpose with much certainty.

Tech expert Trevor Long, on the other hand, said the ostensible measure of the database of scraped information made it “one of the most significant we’ve seen”.

Susceptibilities of major issues that could arise should data from several online sources were amalgamated.

According to him “I think situations like this are reality checks for people – you’ve got your email over there and your phone number over there, but using data-scraping tools, all that information can be brought together in one place. I think that’s the risk people don’t normally see.”

An Australian media company has now been attempting to contact Socialarks, which is based in Shenzhen and Xiamen in China, however, did not respond.

My data protection predictions for 2021 

In my last column, I looked back at 2020 from an information law perspective. It’s safe to say that no-one would have predicted a year like 2020. And so it’s with some trepidation that I look forward to what we might expect in the year to come.

Inevitably, some of the trends that we saw in 2020 will continue. Despite positive news about the development of several vaccines, COVID will be with us for the foreseeable future. And as vaccines are rolled out, and testing improves, we may see novel information challenges. Will businesses start asking customers to provide proof of vaccination as a condition of service? Will the Government choose to issue the lucky ones with vaccination certificates? These scenarios will continue to test our data laws in 2021.

But if 2020 was all about COVID, we can’t look ahead to 2021 without talking about Brexit. For the second time in a little under three years, the UK’s data protection laws are being re-written. From 1 January 2021, the UK will no longer be required to follow EU law. The GDPR, as a European regulation, will no longer automatically apply in the UK. Instead, we’ll all need to get used to talking about its successor, the UK GDPR. This will be especially challenging for UK-based businesses which offer goods or services directly to consumers in the EU, as they will need to continue complying with the EU GDPR for their EU-based customers while adapting to the new UK GDPR for UK customers.

The good news is that the UK GDPR looks a lot like the EU GDPR. In fact, it’s largely a cut-and-paste job, with minor changes to replace references to the EU with the UK and to remove the requirements around international co-operation and the ICO’s international role. The one exception to this is around international data transfers. In my last column, I mentioned the judgment in the Schrems II case, published last July, which led to the demise of the EU-US Privacy Shield. Unfortunately, things are going to get a lot more complicated in 2021. UK-based businesses that have customers in the EU, or which use service providers based within the EU, will need to get to grips with the new rules on international transfers. As the UK will no longer be part of the EU, data transfers from the UK to the EU, and from the EU to the UK will be subject to new restrictions, the former contained within the UK GDPR and the latter in the EU’s GDPR. And this could be subject to last-minute changes should there be a trade deal between the UK and the EU.

Looking a little further ahead, the two sets of laws will inevitably drift apart. We had a small taste of how that might work in December when the UK Government announced its Online Harms Bill and then a day later the European Commission announced plans for a Digital Services Act. These two very different legislative plans share a similar objective of regulating the US big tech giants. Expect to see more of this type of duplication.

In addition, we have a Brexit government. One of the stated purposes of Brexit, if you can remember back to 2016, was to take back control of our laws. And many of our information laws are heavily influenced by European law – not only data protection but also the Environmental Information Regulations and the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations. So what might the UK Government do when it is no longer constrained by EU law? We don’t know but don’t expect to see a significant shakeup, at least in the short term. I don’t sense any big appetite for change, and there will be a lot of competing priorities in 2021.

Nevertheless, as a data protection lawyer, I would be the first to welcome improvements to our data protection laws. As they stand, they are overly complex, difficult to interpret and largely impenetrable for the majority of people. Businesses struggle to apply them to everyday situations and are often at the mercy of bad advice, which does nothing to improve compliance but can cost a fortune. There’s a lot of room for improvement, without necessarily reducing the rights for individuals or security of data. But perhaps that’s a topic for another column.

Lastly, we will see a change of Information Commissioner in 2021. Elizabeth Denham’s five-year term in the post comes to an end in July 2021. The ICO is now a big and powerful regulator, but it remains on one level the personal office of the post-holder, with the ICO’s priorities and approaches a reflection of the incumbent Commissioner. While we don’t know precisely in which direction the new Commissioner may choose to take his or her office, we can expect a change of emphasis as the new appointee seeks to make their personal mark in 2021.

Of course, if it’s anything like 2020, you should expect the unexpected in 2021!

Jon Belcher

Jon Belcher is a commercial lawyer with Blake Morgan, specialising in information governance, data protection compliance, information sharing and freedom of information issues.

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