The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are exceptionally data-hungry. To realize the potential of data-intensive technologies like artificial intelligence or to harness the power and efficiency of cloud computing, data needs to move seamlessly across barriers and borders to meet demand. The ability to move, store and process data across borders serves as the foundation of the modern economy and the key to unlocking new and exciting societal benefits. However, despite widespread benefits, both data localization requirements and barriers to data transfers are on the rise, threatening to deter economic growth, limit positive social impact and slow technological progress.
Much of this increased friction is based on misperceptions, such as that data is better protected in one location or that data localization maximizes value for local populations. But there are also legitimate reasons for increased localization of data – such as concerns related to enforcement, sovereignty, privacy and security – which can only be addressed by close cooperation among regulators, the private sector and civil society.
Regulatory differences across countries cannot be eradicated. They are necessary and appropriate. But there is a clear need for interoperable frameworks that can map requirements across borders and create mechanisms to reduce regulatory overload.
This project has several workstreams. The first is focused on developing regionally based legally-interoperable data flow models. Such models exist in the European Union (EU) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In developing regions of the world where investment in technology is being ramped up, we can apply and customize approaches based on lessons learned in other parts of the world.
Development of regionally compatible data flow principles in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa will help fuel the burgeoning technology sectors in these regions in a proactive way and help them be competitive with other regions that have a head start in technology development.
The second opportunity area is based not on horizontal geographical alignment and collaboration but on vertical subject matter focus. While holistic interoperability is the goal, we can begin by identifying a specific problem area, such as research in rare diseases, to create data-sharing frameworks specific to a clearly beneficial use case. These use cases include humanitarian uses of cross-border data and research-based examples in healthcare.
The Data Flows Project addresses issues related to regional data governance by aiming to support the development of cohesive policy frameworks and cross-border governance protocols, which can accelerate societal benefits and minimize adverse risks of data flows. This effort requires the establishment of trust between participating parties. Therefore, these frameworks incorporate trust mechanisms such as data privacy and security backstops.
The project assists participating regions to develop cross-border data policy frameworks at a principle level. In the short term, this will impact the value of specific economic sectors that operate within the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as smart cities and precision medicine. In the longer term, the resultant growth in the region can be expected to result in increased growth in GDP over time.The project is currently assisting governments to develop cohesive data flows frameworks in the Middle East and North Africa, South-East Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region.