India’s IT minister has hinted that a revised data protection law will remove the requirement for sovereign data storage, which will satisfy big tech companies, which have spoken out against onshore storage.
In an interview with the Indian newspaper The economic period State Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said cross-border data flows will be permitted by law.
The law is controversial because earlier this year the government abandoned a draft of the bill despite spending two years trying to get it through parliament.
This project provided for strict regulation of cross-border data flows.
Big Tech hates such restrictions. The Asia Internet Coalition – a pressure group whose members include Facebook, Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, Yahoo! and other tech giants – dedicates a section of its website to its opposition to restricting cross-border data flows.
All the documents in this section suggest that data should flow freely across borders.
A letter from January 2022 [PDF] from the Coalition to Indian politicians and bureaucrats have opposed restrictions on cross-border data flows in the dumped bill.
The Coalition’s argument is that companies need free cross-border data flows in order to take advantage of offshore SaaS and cloud services, and that it is counterproductive to ask companies to determine what data should stay onshore and what data can be sent to the cloud. The letter literally predicts “higher business failure rates…more expensive product offerings from existing market players” and reduced ability for “Indian consumers to access a truly global internet and quality Services”.
A month ago, the Coalition wrote a very similar letter [PDF] to the Vietnamese government. Vietnam is proposing to require data storage on land and the Coalition says this will hamper the development of its digital and real economies.
The Coalition is not alone in promoting such ideas. In August 2022, think tank The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a report suggesting that India and South Korea should approve cross-border data flows to benefit their economies and demonstrate that they are part of a bloc of like-minded democracies that allow data to flow freely.
Autocracies like Russia and China don’t like to share data describing their citizens abroad. Beijing recently implemented strict laws that limit cross-border sharing. Moscow did the same.
Chandrasekhar said The economic period he now believes that “the Internet is global and has data as its underlying building block. For a robust Internet innovation ecosystem, there must be a flow of data.” The minister also reportedly said that the Indian government would be happy if data could be transferred overseas as long as it remains accessible to local authorities and security standards are met.
All of this suggests that Big Tech’s arguments have taken root in India – the world’s second most populous country and a country in which Google, Amazon and Meta are all battling to expand their businesses and collect more data describing citizens. ®