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Facebook's Nicholas Clegg counters Mukesh Ambani, says data isn't oil

Facebook global affairs V-P says India must push free flow of information

Neha Alawadhi  |  New Delhi 

Nicholas Clegg, Head of Global Affairs  & Communications, Facebook
Nicholas Clegg, Head of Global Affairs & Communications, Facebook

Countering Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, Facebook Inc on Thursday said data was not the new oil, and countries like India should allow its free flow across borders instead of attempting to hoard it as a finite commodity within national boundaries.

“Data isn’t oil — a finite commodity to be owned and traded, pumped from the ground and burned in cars and factories...a better liquid to liken it to is water, with the global internet like a great borderless ocean of currents and tides. The value of data comes not from hoarding it or trading it like a finite commodity, but from allowing it to flow freely and encouraging the innovation that comes from that free flow of data — the algorithms and the services and the intelligence that can be built on top of it,” said Facebook Vice-President of Global Affairs and Communications Nicholas Clegg, who is also a former deputy prime minister of Britain.

He said the internet was built on this principle of cross-border data flow and India should work with its “natural allies” to encourage the free flow of information.

“To contain the data — to fix it geographically and to restrict its flow to national borders — would be to turn this great ocean of innovation (internet) into a still lake. The global internet is built on this principle of cross-border data flows — just as the global economy relies on capital, human resources, and technological innovation to cross-borders in order to flourish,” said Clegg on Thursday.

He was speaking at a session organised by Ananta Aspen Centre and Facebook on ‘New Rules for the Internet: Shaping the Digital Economy’.

Clegg acknowledged that India’s concerns about national security related to data-sharing were valid, and suggested that the two countries revive their bilateral relationship on “cyber cooperation and for India to seek access to these existing mechanisms for data sharing”.

“Data-sharing is crucial for national security too. 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 Cybercrime,” he said.

The Budapest Convention is one of the most important multilateral treaties addressing the issue of cybercrime and international cooperation. It was drafted by the Council of Europe along with Canada, Japan, South Africa, and the US. India is currently not a signatory to the convention. The CLOUD Act allows US agencies to access data stored abroad.

Clegg met Home Minister Amit Shah and Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad later in the day. Over the past two years, the call for data localisation, or storing data in local servers in India, has picked up pace, and is a feature of several new policies and legislation that deal with sensitive or personal data of Indian citizens. Businesses in India and abroad have opposed the call for mandating data localisation and restricting cross-border data flows. Even as the data-handling continues to be a global issue for Facebook, India has been asking WhatsApp to find a solution to trace the origin of fake messages on the platform, after a series of mob lynchings last year, fuelled by what were later found to be fake messages circulated on WhatsApp.

First Published: Thu, September 12 2019. 20:32 IST
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