Data Colonisation: A Growing Threat of 21st Century

Sameer Kochhar, Author of ModiNomics, Defeating Poverty and Reforms Historian

Data Sovereignty: The Pursuit of Supremacy
In today's interconnected world data is the lifeline of any economy. Free-flow of data across the world has made it easier for a person sitting in one part of the world to access the data in any other part of the world. This has made it easier for any business to expand its reach at a global level.

In today's interconnected world data is the lifeline of any economy. Free-flow of data across the world has made it easier for a person sitting in one part of the world to access the data in any other part of the world. This has made it easier for any business to expand its reach at a global level. 

However, the importance and use of data does not stop at connecting the individuals and the businesses. Business worth trillions of dollar is done annually where the primary input is data. Five most valuable listed firms in the world – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google's parent company), Microsoft and Facebook – deal primarily in data.

Not only businesses, but data is also now playing a crucial role in governance. Data is being used to manipulate elections in favour of those who suit one's interests, be it business or political. There are several examples where parties or individuals who have managed data well have won the elections. So data is not just a source or input to business but a tool to influence and prove supremacy over the world. 

There was a time when oil used to be the key driver of an economy. It was the main source of energy. There was a race among the powerful countries to control the oil reserves. In order to maintain its supremacy over oil the United States virtually colonised the Middle East, the largest source of oil on the planet. 

With the onset of the 21st century, after the pursuit of supremacy with military might and oil, the new phenomenon is - 'data colonisation'. “Data is the new oil – whoever controls data, controls everything.” 

Clearly, the fight for supremacy is now centred around the control of data. This is the theme of 'Data Sovereignty: The Pursuit of Supremacy' book co-authored by Vinit Goenka, Secretary, Centre for Knowledge Sovereignty and Governing Council Member, Centre for Railway Information System. 

The book, published by Penman Books, is co-authored by Bharat Panchal, SVP & Head – Risk Management at National Payments Corporation of India, Jayadeva Ranade, President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy and retired officers of Indian Army Lt. Gen V. M. Patil, Lt. Gen Vinod Khandare, Lt. Gen Vinod Bhatia and Lt Gen D. B Shekatkar. 

The book presents a comprehensive picture of the growing importance of data in the global economy, with special focus on India. 

With regard to India, the Book points out that the country, currently, does not have any legal framework to deal with the issue of data sovereignty and data localisation. Presently, the relevant laws in India dealing with data protection and data privacy are the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the (Indian) Contract Act, 1872. Apparently, both the Acts do not deal with data security directly. 

Two bills – The Personal Data Protection Bill 2014 and the Privacy (Protection) Bill 2013 are pending in the Parliament. A proper roadmap and strong legal framework are required to ensure that data is safe and secure. The country that fails to secure and control its data would face a threat of colonisation in a new form. Unlike the other form of colonisation whose primary purpose used to be economical, at its worst, data colonisation could lead to the enslavement of mind, body and soul, besides the economy. 

This book makes a persuasive case. Would love to read and review counter-arguments.

Data Sovereignty: The Pursuit of Supremacy, Penman Books, 2019 is co-authored by Vinit Goenka, Bharat Panchal, Jayadeva Ranade, Lt. Gen V. M. Patil, Lt. Gen Vinod Khandare, Lt. Gen Vinod Bhatia and Lt Gen D. B Shekatkar.

(Sameer Kochhar can be reached at skoch@skoch.in)

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