Talking about data with Dan Svantesson, Professor, Bond University

Published on
July 12, 2021

The Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network has released a Report “We Need to Talk About Data: Framing the Debate Around the Free Flow of Data and Data Sovereignty”. The Report presents concerns and perspectives around these polarizing policy concepts and offers recommendations on how to move forward. To unpack the key messages and explore the next steps I&JPN spoke to the Report’s contributors to ask how I&JPN can foster a collaborative discussion on how to organize our common Datasphere.

Dan Svantesson is Professor at Bond University and Author of the I&J Global Status Report 2019


Why do we need to talk about data? 

Data are central to the modern world. Very little of what we are used to, benefiting from, and indeed relying upon, would work without accurate data. Being such a central pillar for societies, data are valuable for everyone from individuals to multinational businesses, and from small NGOs to nation states. 

With anything so important, we need a constantly ongoing discussion. 

What is the most important key message from the I&JPN Report?

The Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network’s ‘We Need to Talk About Data: Framing the Debate Around Free Flow of Data and Data Sovereignty’ Report makes clear both the challenges we face and why we must overcome those challenges. Put simply, finding a solution to the issue of cross-border data flows is not optional. Too much is at stake. But we cannot content ourselves with trying to search amongst ‘old trusted’ approaches.

As the Report makes clear, the challenges go to the core of the international law system, and we need an open mind, creativity, and a willingness to acknowledge nuances in what too often is approach from a binary perspective. 

When considering data policy approaches, why should we be thinking about our “common Datasphere”? 

In many ways, the Internet is structured as a “common Datasphere”.

However, the world is not. This tension between, on the one hand, the largely ‘borderless’ online environment and, on the other hand, the borders that characterise our physical world – and traditionally the application of laws – have remained an unresolved challenge. We now need to explore options for a future “common Datasphere” that copes better with the diversity that colours the physical world.

An important question in all this is the extent to which we must learn to work with a partial fragmentation due to irreconcilable value-clashes.

How can we foster a collaborative discussion moving forward? 

Much work is needed to foster a collaborative discussion moving forward. Currently most developments seem to be driven by the larger countries for the larger platforms. That may be natural in some ways. But to make real progress, we also need the perspectives of smaller countries and smaller platforms.   

One practical step is for countries seeking to implement specific legal approaches to consider whether those approaches are ‘scalable’ – what happens if many other countries adopt that same approach? 

Another practical matter is to move towards proactive collaborative lawmaking as opposed to the reactive unilateral lawmaking we commonly see today.