RCEP Negotiations – National Data Rights

What is the issue?

  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade negotiations had been held recently.
  • India may accept the free data flow clauses with some public policy exceptions at these negotiations.

What is the RCEP?

  • It is a trade deal that is currently under negotiation among 16 countries.
  • These countries include 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 6 countries with which the ASEAN bloc has free trade agreements (FTA).
  • The ASEAN countries have FTAs with India, Australia, China, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand.
  • Negotiations on the details of the RCEP have been on since 2013.
  • All the participants aim to finalise and sign the deal by November 2019.

Why data is important?

  • In a digital economy, data is the central resource.
  • The Prime Minister compared data to property at the advent of the industrial era.
  • Data is being considered as a nation’s new wealth.
  • A nation’s rank in the emerging new global geo-economic and geo-political hierarchies will be decided by how it employs data fruitfully, and its value captured.
  • The global digital or Artificial Intelligence (AI) economy is currently a two-horse race between the U.S. and China.
  • All other countries may become fully digitally dependent on one of these two digital superpowers.
  • This will compromise their economic and political independence, something referred to as digital colonisation.
  • The shift to digital power and its concentration is very evident.
  • Seven of the top eight companies by market cap globally today are data-based corporations, mostly U.S. or China-based.

What is the importance of data sharing?

  • To escape such a dismal situation, credible efforts like in the French, the U.K. and India’s NITI Aayog’s AI strategies are taken.
  • All these efforts focus on one central issue – More data-sharing within the country, and better access to data for domestic businesses.
  • French AI strategy – Calls for an aggressive data policy and control on data outflows.
  • NITI Aayog’s AI strategy – Mandated the sharing of data for social purposes.
  • Appropriate data policies must ensure that the required data is actually available to Indian digital businesses.
  • The global digital corporations such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc continually vacuum out India’s and Indians’ data.
  • By default they also treat the data as their private property and refuse to share it, even for important public interest purposes.

What is a Community data?

  • The above-mentioned lawless logjam can only be broken by asserting a community’s legal right over data that is derived from, and is about the community concerned.
  • This is the concept of community data inscribed in India’s draft e-commerce policy.
  • Data about a group of people is equally important as the personal data.
  • Data about a community, even if anonymised, provides very wide and granular intelligence about that group or community.
  • The very basis of a digital economy is to employ such data-based intelligence to reorganise and coordinate different sectors.
  • But this community intelligence can equally be used to manipulate or to harm the community (economic, social, political, security-related harms).

What could be done to protect the community data?

  • This requires effective community control over its data that produces such intelligence.
  • A complex process of classification of various kinds of data, and developing governance frameworks around them, is required.
  • In important sectors, the community data concerned may require close regulation.
  • This could be about accessing such data for social purposes, ensuring that important public interest is met in various uses of data.
  • It could also be about how to make data available to domestic businesses, to stimulate competition and for India’s digital industrialisation.
  • All this requires India to preserve its data policy space.
  • It needs to be understood that suitable data controls and policies are the mainstream of a digital economy and society.

Why shouldn’t India accept the free data flow clauses?

  • The history of trade agreements show that such public policy exceptions almost never work, especially for developing countries.
  • India may lose chances for the effective usage of its data for development of India and for digital industrialisation to become a top digital power.
  • It may end up ceding most of its data policy space, and data sovereignty.
  • Disengaging from signing binding agreements on uninhibited data flows across borders doesn’t mean that a country would localise all data.
  • It just means that a country retains complete data policy space, and the means to shape its digital industrialisation, and thus its digital future.
  • It will be laying the path for permanent digital dependency, with India’s data flowing freely to data intelligence centres in the U.S. and China.
  • Our understanding in these areas is just now beginning to take shape.
  • It will be extremely unwise to foreclose our options even before we discover and decide the right data and digital polices and path for India.

Source: The Hindu

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