Clause 69 - Power of access

Part of Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:15 pm ar 22 Mehefin 2023.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) 12:15, 22 Mehefin 2023

Clause 69 is a backstop power enabling the Digital Markets Unit to supervise firm-led tests and demonstrations, either at a firm’s premises or remotely. It will be available only in limited cases in which an SMS firm has not complied with an information notice or a duty to assist a skilled person. It provides an efficient way for the DMU to get the information that it needs without placing an undue burden on firms.

Clause 70 allows the DMU to require an interview with any individual in the UK with information relevant to a digital markets investigation. That will enable the DMU to gather vital evidence that is held by individuals with relevant knowledge, rather than in digital or physical forms. Clause 71 protects individuals who are compelled to give testimony under clause 70 from self-incrimination. It limits the circumstances in which the DMU can use an individual’s interview statement as evidence against them in a criminal prosecution. Clause 72 allows the DMU to enter business premises without a warrant for the purposes of a breach investigation. It ensures that the DMU can collect information that is being withheld by an SMS firm that is accessible only on the premises. Without that power, there would be greater risk that a firm could destroy or interfere with material relevant to an investigation.

Clause 73 allows the DMU to enter business and domestic premises for the purposes of a breach investigation, after obtaining a warrant from the High Court, Court of Session or Competition Appeal Tribunal. The DMU must also establish that a firm has failed to comply with previous information requests, or that no other powers would secure the necessary evidence, and establish reasonable suspicion that the information is relevant to the investigation. Clause 74 contains supplementary requirements for how the DMU must exercise its power to enter premises under a warrant. It also clarifies the extraterritorial scope of that power. The DMU will not be able to enter premises outside the United Kingdom under clause 73, but it can access information regardless of where it is physically stored.

Clause 75 allows the DMU to take copies of, or extracts from, information and sift it off site when exercising its power to enter either business or domestic premises under a warrant, if it is unsure whether the information falls within the scope of the investigation. Clause 76 ensures that the DMU follows established judicial procedures when applying for a warrant to enter premises. It requires the DMU to follow the rules of the High Court, Court of Session or Competition Appeal Tribunal; that provides vital checks and balances.

These clauses are largely modelled on the CMA’s existing information-gathering powers, and they will be subject to the same robust safeguards. They also give the DMU new powers to scrutinise the output of algorithms in clause 69, and enhanced powers in clause 73 to access information that is stored on remote servers but accessible over the internet. It is important to recognise that without those powers, the DMU’s interventions would not be well evidenced or enforceable.