NEW DELHI: US social media major Facebook has called on India to allow free flow of data across borders to discover its true value, urging against “hoarding” it.
“There are many in India and around the world who think of data as the new oil, and that, like oil, having a great reserve of it held within your national boundaries will lead to surefire prosperity. But this analogy is mistaken,” said Nick Clegg, global head for public policy, Facebook, at an event on Thursday. “Data isn’t oil — a finite commodity — to be owned and traded, pumped from the ground and burned in cars and factories. Of course, no analogy is perfect, but a better liquid to liken it to is water, with the global internet like a great borderless ocean of currents and tides,” Clegg added.
His views were in contrast to those of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, who has repeatedly described data as the new oil.
Clegg is visiting India at a time the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill is being readied, to mandate companies collecting data of Indian citizens to store certain ‘çritical’ data only within the country. Foreign companies have opposed the move, worried it would hurt their planned investments by raising costs related to setting up new local data centres.
Clegg said the true value of data comes from allowing it to flow freely and encouraging the innovation that stems from it. “It is that innovation that has potential to bring much greater wealth to India and will place India, with its entrepreneurial society and its bedrock of engineering talent, at the forefront of the global internet for decades to come,” he said. Clegg said to restrict data flow outside India would be to “turn this great ocean of innovation into a still lake…The global internet is built on this principle of cross-border data flows just as global economy relies on capital, human resources and technological innovation to cross borders in order to flourish.”
The Facebook executive said that besides economy, data sharing is crucial for national security. “Yet, right now India finds itself locked out of major global data-sharing initiatives aimed to clamp down on serious crime and terrorism, like the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act and the Budapest Convention on Cyber Crime,” he said.
“In our view, a major priority for the US and India should be to revive their relationship on cyber cooperation and for India to seek access to these existing mechanisms for data sharing. Now is not the time to drift further apart, now is the time to get around the table and agree on a data-sharing relationship that suits both sides,” he said.
He said that India finds itself at a crossroads as the internet matures, and its decisions going forward would play a crucial role in shaping the global internet. If India choose the data localisation, “between these two great nations, China and India, a third of the world’s population would be detached from the rest of the global internet and a great precedent would be set for other nations. And in a few short years there may not be such a thing as a global internet at all,” he said, adding some countries would use India as a precedent to justify even more restrictive laws.