Great powers racing to enforce their data sharing rules on the rest of the world

It is going to be difficult to reach extraterritorial agreement on data privacy and sharing amid the rising geopolitical tensions and the growing mistrust between the governments worldwide.

European Union officials are drafting new legislations complementing the GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation) so that data would not only be protected but also shared for the sake of public safety and innovation.

The US is rushing forward with The Clean Network program aimed to ringfence its networks from malicious actors, in particular - China and Chinese companies, such as Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent.

As a response, China came up with an initiative to set global standards on data security that is aimed to counter the efforts by the US government.

At the same time, the World Economic Forum is launching its own initiatives calling for free and secure data sharing worldwide, and the entire continent of Africa with its 55 countries is demanding its share of attention.

Is it possible to reach any international agreement on data protection and sharing in the current explosive geopolitical environment?

“Distrust is not good for the world”

“There’s a digital trust deficit,” Zhang Jian, director of the Institute of European Studies at CICIR (China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations), said during the EU Cyber Forum.

According to him, countries are worried about data security. Some people even call for protectionism and localization of data. The regulation of data, Zhang Jian argued, is necessary worldwide, but different countries have different visions on how to handle it.

“Too much regulation can be the parasite for the economy, but the world needs more regulation and standards,” he said.

He was asked whether it is possible to achieve any international cooperation on data sharing and protection amid huge geopolitical tensions. Even when it comes to data regulation, China and the US are flexing their muscles.

Too much regulation can be the parasite for the economy, but the world needs more regulation and standard,

said Zhang Jian.

China has just launched its initiative so set global standards on data security.

“It’s difficult to have backing from every country on this initiative, not every country wants to do that. Countries, such as the US, are advanced in technology, and IT companies dominate not only the US but also the world. (...) Some companies and governments have their own selfish thinking,” he said.

Mike BAI tweet screenshot

China’s initiative was launched to counter the US Clean Network program. It is designed to ringfence the US and its allies from China.

Zhang Jian admits that it’s going to be hard to reach an international agreement on data, but that’s “an endeavor we need to take”. He added that distrust between governments is simply “not good for the world”.

Department of State tweet screenshot

EU wants a say worldwide

In the last five years, the European Union developed 3 different frameworks regarding data protection and sharing. The most prominent is the GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation), aimed at personal data protection.

“We’re glad to see that now there are incentives in the same direction worldwide,” said Khalil Rouhana, Deputy Director-General at DG CNECT, European Commission.

Another legal framework concerns open data and data held by the public sector. It makes sure that data can be accessed and reused for innovation. Also, there’s a legal framework for the free data flow within the EU members.

The EU seeks that its citizens’ data outside the block would be protected in the same manner as it is protected in the EU.

“One of the legal frameworks that we are working on right now, and we will announce it in the next few weeks, is about data sharing. Our intention is to create a framework that would facilitate the creation across Europe of what we call data spaces that are shared, that are available across the EU that professionals, innovators, and researchers could use to improve our health system, our environmental monitoring, our mobility, and energy,” said Khalil Rouhana.

Also, the EU is drafting some proposals for substantial investments in common data spaces.

Khalil Rouhana also mentioned that there’s going to be new legislation next year regarding the access of data. EU internal note, seen by the Financial Times, proposes to expand “targeted lawful access” of encrypted communications that might help law enforcement crack down on organized crime. 

Khalil Rouhana explained that the EU regularly engages in dialogues with other countries, such as China, Japan, and the US.

The EU seeks that its citizens’ data outside the block would be protected in the same manner as it is protected in the EU.

“Data is the property that doesn’t require exclusive ownership”

Chizuru Suga, the head of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Japan, argues that data sharing will become extremely important in the context of the pandemic. As countries reopen their borders, for example, travelers need a secure and trusted document about their health data. Governments, airlines, and airports need to trust the citizens’ COVID-19 tests and also share that information securely.

“We still believe that governments with a different level of trust in each other can come up with a framework that is more coordinated and trusted,” said Chizuru Suga.

WEF addresses this issue by working with business, government, civil society leaders, experts, and practitioners to advance public-private data collaboration.

World Economic Forum tweet screenshot

“Good news is that data is something different from traditional assets like land and money. Data is the property that doesn’t require exclusive ownership. Multiple people and stakeholders can access the same data. We can create and increase the value of the same data if we can allow many stakeholders to access the same data,” she said.

Chizuru Suga admits, there’s no single unified consensus about data governance, and each country has different incentives and ethics.

“It’s OK that we are all different. The important keyword here is interoperability. As long as we enjoy interoperability between different frameworks, it’s OK, and we can coexist, and we can still pick up many different values out of the same data. That’s exactly what we want to see in the world,” she said.


Rudolf Scheutz
prefix 3 years ago
I was an IT worker at University of Salzburg, Austria. For more than 20 years my e-data were manipulated. The University said: “Nothing can be done against that” and fired me.
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