Governing cross border data flow and sustainable development

10 Nov 2020 16:50h - 17:50h

Event report

The session, moderated by Mr Bipul Chatterjee (Deputy Executive Director, CUTS International), addressed the adverse impact of restricting cross-border data flows on the realisation of sustainable development goals (SDGs). In the context of the considerable rise in protectionist measures restricting cross-border data flows for various purposes (national security, economic development), the impact of these measures need to be understood in terms of their effects on competition, innovation, sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Chatterjee, for instance, referred to a new research that measures the economic importance of digital services exports for the Indian economy and the implications of foreign and domestic data flow restrictions on the economy.

Mr Jay Gullish (President, U.S.-India Business Council) emphasised the importance of privacy and cross-border data flows in the current policy-making environment. The decisions made in the coming years will set the stage for the overall digital ecosystem and shape the future of innovation, the relationship between individuals and governments, and trust within the Internet environment. With the development of the social media layer in the Internet ecosystem, followed by the realisation of the need for a security-driven environment and the reality of data collection, there is now a shift towards a privacy-driven environment. However, the movement of data has been incredibly beneficial to societies, so the right mechanisms need to be built to allow these flows to continue, while rebuilding trust and allowing interoperability.

Looking at cross-border data flows, Dr Joy M.A. Katgekwa (Regional Strategic Advisor, UNDP) explained how trade can facilitate development. Cross-border data flows are critical for the movement of goods and services. A recent study suggests that restrictions on data flows could lead to a 19% drop in exports. The crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that it is inescapable to find the right balance on how to support rich cross-border trade flows for achieving sustainable development. Investments in cross-border data flows are essential because development is inextricably linked to them in our current digital economy. In terms of SDGs, the main issue is about inclusivity. For instance, African platforms and citizens are excluded from the main blocks of the digital economy, emphasising the need for investments into capacities and new competition regulations.

Mr Raymond Tavares (Industrial Development Officer, UNIDO) shared insights on the work of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) on cross-border data flows and sustainable development. Setting standards and norms are UNIDO’s core competencies, including big data and cloud computing, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and additive manufacturing (such as 3D printing). Tavares argued that it is important that data must benefit from the development agenda of countries and its citizens from whom the data is being harvested. It is also essential to foster multilateralism between countries to ensure a ‘common ethical ground’ is established. UNIDO can support governance of cross-border data flows by supporting the development of international data collection and management policies. UNIDO has created e-commerce policy framework for BRICS, for instance. It also supports national institutional capabilities.