Expert Speak Digital Frontiers
Published on Nov 05, 2022 Updated 15 Days ago
India must ensure that the needs of developing countries are considered when discussing cross border flow of data
Data flow and privacy - India’s role as the G20 President The digital space is evolving fast. While we are still in an early stage of the digital revolution, the changes brought by it are not devoid of challenges, and thus, it is exceedingly important to discuss them. Indonesia’s agenda for the G20 included digital transformation as one of the three main sections. It is considered crucial for the collective recovery of all countries from the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the agenda of digital transformation, the presidency also includes the need to address the issue of digital data and privacy. The group of advanced countries that initiated the development of numerous digital technologies, naturally became the recipients of a lopsided number of benefits. Consequently, organisations or entities belonging to these countries continued to be in control of the digital landscape. While many nations and companies attempt to capitalise on the opportunities brought on by the digital revolution, only a handful of players such as Meta, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple dominate the space, all of whom are concentrated in the advanced economies. Since they have access to a sizable amount of data, they have a lot of power and so does their country of origin. The G20 then becomes an important forum to discuss data flow and sovereignty.

The group of advanced countries that initiated the development of numerous digital technologies, naturally became the recipients of a lopsided number of benefits.

While the benefits of free flow of data on the GDP, exports, etc., have been widely discussed, the issue of data privacy has taken on much importance among many developed and developing countries. People and governments have started demanding more authority on and autonomy of the data generated by them. To that end, Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT), as approved in the G20 Digital Ministerial Meeting 2021, has proposed the adoption of processes that balance opposing interests. The DFFT encourages to adopt pro-development regulations on data governance and promote the following: Classification of data based on the level of risk, which will circumvent the trade-off between development and innovation associated with free flow of data and data privacy and sovereignty based on the level of risk involved; encourage countries to develop regulations for accountable data transfer and other practices for its usage through plurilateral and multilateral setups and laws governing it; and include further research value of data in solving day to day and complex economic problems. However, India did not participate in the discussions held in the side-lines of the Osaka track for DFFT and is even hesitant to accept it because of its apprehensions about data accessibility i.e., once the information moves out to another country it will not be dealt equivalent to the information at home. Additionally, like many non-industrial countries, India is still forming its information security and web-based regulations. The Indonesian presidency recognises the work done by previous G20 presidencies in enabling data free flow with trust and cross border data flows to advance sustainable digital transformation. It has built further on the prior discussions by identifying commonalities, complementarities, and elements of convergence between existing regulatory policies including the existing regional and multilateral arrangements that enable data free flow and cross-border data flows. Two concrete steps have been undertaken by the current presidency: A Workshop of Multistakeholder Dialogue on Identifying Measures to Facilitate the Different Levels of Understanding of Data Governance, and the development of interoperable digital identity frameworks in alignment with the human-centric approach that facilitates digital identity solutions which are respectful of human rights such as the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy.

Developing and furthering DFFT in the pro-development context requires increase of trust between parties, reduction in instances of hacking and cyber-attacks, and continuous discussions on the minute as well as wider nuances governing the digital space.

During its presidency, India must ensure that the needs of the developing countries are considered when discussing cross border flow of data. It is imperative to understand that in this era of geopolitical uncertainty where advanced and emerging economies alike are vulnerable to cyberattacks and other digital security threats due to an overdependence on the digital space, it is crucial to assist the poorer countries to equip themselves with a strong cyber defence system. It is equally important to understand that simply storing data locally is costly as its utility lies in its usage. Thus, cross border data flows should be exercised with accountability. Developing and furthering DFFT in the pro-development context requires increase of trust between parties, reduction in instances of hacking and cyber-attacks, and continuous discussions on the minute as well as wider nuances governing the digital space. The latter is important especially, to generate understanding among the diverse countries with diverse interests that G20 encompasses. Developing standards and procedures for data flow is essentially building soft infrastructure that benefits everyone. Given that digital transformation is envisaged to enable global economic recovery, it becomes more important to unlock its potential by building trust between businesses, platforms, and governments. There is a need to harmonise regulations and standards across countries, by bringing commonality in rules and granting common rights. This will enable smoother flow of data, enhance innovation, and generate meaningful employment, thereby increasing consumer surplus not just by competitiveness but also by increased choices eventually leading to post-pandemic recovery.
The author thanks Tanushree Sashital for her research inputs on this piece.
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Apoorva Lalwani

Apoorva Lalwani

Apoorva Lalwani was an Associate Fellow with ORFs Geoeconomic Studies Programme. Her research focuses on data localisation multi-modal connectivity and WTO issues and their impact ...

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