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India has to define a fourth path for data governance: Arun Kumar Singh, former Indian ambassador to the US at #PolicyNext

One set of arguments on data localisation is the need to access data from the law and order point-of-view, said Arun Kumar Singh, former ambassador of India to the United States, at MediaNama’s #PolicyNext discussion on June 27th in Delhi.

Singh was Indian’s ambassador to the US from April 2015-August 2016, and he has also served as ambassador to France and Israel. He has also served as joint secretary in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. Speaking in his personal capacity, since he is no longer with the government, Ambassador Singh shared his reading on India’s data policies in the geopolitical context:

1. Indian government didn’t get data after 26/11, was asked to go via MLAT: “When 26/11 happened, we needed access to some data available with American companies stored in the U.S, and that data was not made available. The Indian government was asked to use the MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) route instead, which isn’t useful because it takes weeks and months. But when the US government needed access to similar data for their own purposes, they got it immediately without necessarily having to go through courts.”

2. Regulation around data and privacy is needed: “The second argument is that there has to be a certain policy and regulation related to data and privacy. The question of privacy emerged in Europe, and lead to the GDPR, because they found that Europe and even its leaders were under surveillance from the United States.”

3. Who owns and benefits from data, and its monetization: “The third set of arguments is around monetization of data. Companies based in the US sold data of people for profit including for political analysis; as was seen in Cambridge Analytica. The questions therefore are around, who should won the data, and who should benefit from that profit – the one generating that data, or the one integrating that data, the company or the individual. This has no clear answer, and needs to be addressed.” He said that if there’s such confusion about how one defines an Indian entity, an argument can be made in terms of wider society benefit from data. “And therefore, the argument that data needs to be stored in India. Then we can look at whether technology generation and profit generation is happening from the use of that data available to the wider society.”

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India has to define a fourth path

In the context of geopolitics, Singh compared policy-making around the world and where India stands. “Policies around data in the US is clearly driven by the corporate sector, which has the technology. In Europe, it emerged from the interest of the consumer. In China, it is the interest of the state.”

In India, I think, we have to define our own fourth path depending on where we stand and depending on our Constitution.” Singh observed that there’s a lot of interest in what India does, many countries start looking at policies and frameworks adopted by India. “Its one of the reasons multinationals and others also watch the kind of decisions India is taking closely. This complex set of interests and objectives is what the government is working its way through.”

The PolicyNext discussion aimed to take a step back and get an overview of the technology policy space in India, see our coverage of the conference here.


MediaNama’s first #PolicyNext conference, held in Delhi, was supported by Internet Society (APAC), OYO, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Digital Empowerment Foundation was the community partner for the event.

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