Author: Mihir Kaulgud
Editor: Riya Singh Rathore
This paper critically examines India’s data governance framework and its geopolitical dimension. It does so specifically within the context of standard-setting frameworks of the United States, the European Union, and China. These frameworks conceptualise data as a resource and revenue-generating economic asset. This work argues that while the Indian government has been vocal about data sovereignty and combatting data colonialism, it carries the “data as resource” metaphor into its policy framework. Adopting this metaphor perpetuates the economic dimension of data colonialism, which involves big tech companies profiting by extracting and monopolising people’s data. Moreover, this paper argues that to combat data colonialism, the Indian emphasis on data sovereignty must not focus only on the state’s sovereignty but on the people who generate data. Focusing on people’s sovereignty over their data would entail being attentive to data’s social characteristics and moving the foundations of policy away from the “data as resource” metaphor. Innovating data governance from this perspective would entail a more comprehensive data decolonisation, making India a standard-setter in its own right.
KEYWORDS: Data Governance, Data Colonialism, Data Sovereignty, Data as Resource, Strategic Autonomy
Data governance refers to governmental and inter-governmental regulations about collecting, storing, transferring and using digital data. It is necessary because “data in digital form are [sic] routinely created, gathered, and shared across the globe to support core societal functions, including healthcare systems, transportation, international commerce, and national security” (Arner et al., 2021). Governments thus consider digital data a valuable asset. Its flow must be regulated to benefit the citizens and their economies (Ciuriak, 2022).
This paper argues that India’s current stance on data governance carries a ‘data as resource’ mindset that current standard-setters in the field, such as the US, the EU, and China, have adopted. This mindset perpetuates data colonialism of tech companies over people’s data. The paper then argues that there is a need to shift to being attentive to data’s social characteristics. Moreover, while India emphasises data sovereignty, this paper argues that to combat data colonialism, emphasis on data sovereignty must not focus only on the state’s sovereignty but on the people who generate data. Innovating data governance from this perspective provides India with a window to become a standard setter in its own right.