‘Data about Indians must remain in India … Next time you get into a country-to-country standoff, data will play a huge part’

Uday Shankar
Share this with your friends


At a time when control over personal data is emerging as the new great battle of our times, the government is reportedly planning to table the Personal Data Protection Bill in the upcoming winter session of Parliament. This follows the report of the Justice BN Srikrishna committee on data protection. Also, recently Reserve Bank of India (RBI) directed that all data generated by the payment systems in India must be stored in India. Uday Shankar, president of 21st Century Fox Asia and chairman and CEO of Star India, spoke to Nalin Mehta on why he thinks Indian data must be stored only on Indian soil and why tech companies must comply:

The Justice Srikrishna committee draft Personal Data Protection Bill is likely to be tabled in Parliament’s next session. Do you agree that Indian data with global tech companies should be stored only in India, and not overseas?

First and foremost, the right debate about data is not whether data should be allowed to go outside India and then can some of that be brought into the country or not. We are often told: let all data rest wherever it is resting outside and that it can be mirrored somewhere in India, if needed. That is completely the wrong way to look at it.

The right approach is that all data about all Indians must always remain in India. Then we can look at how some of this data can be allowed to be mirrored outside for technological or commercial reasons, within a very sharply defined framework.

Data are an extension of people’s personalities, their physiology, everything. We do not know the advances that have been made in data-mining and how this data can be used. Hence, to allow this data to go out and sit outside India is very shortsighted.

The next time you get into a country-to-country standoff, data is going to play a huge part in that. Do you really want your vital asset to be sitting outside where you cannot control it?

India has already become the world’s biggest battleground between the ambitions of Chinese and American technology companies. Their ambitions are going to be driven in a huge way by access to data. If Indian data sits outside India, it will be governed by the national laws of that country and by the strategic agenda of that country where it is stored. How can we allow our data to sit outside India?

Tech companies are opposing data localisation vehemently arguing it will be too costly and impractical and citing different jurisdictions. What about that argument?

Practicality cannot be a response to issues of strategic and national interest. Your convenience cannot be allowed to trample upon my personal data. National boundaries and citizenship of individuals cannot just be ignored.

You are part of several industry bodies. Isn’t there a lot of pressure against data localisation?

There are people who have built global mega-sized businesses based on the free run that they have got. That is part of the problem.

Tech companies are saying we have a global model so we cannot be asked to customise it to specific countries. That is clearly not a great answer. In every other sector – in media, or for that matter, in manufacturing – you may be a global company but you still have to submit yourself to all local, legal requirements. Not doing that would be a violation of sovereignty. Why should that not be the case for other companies, just because they are new?

What about the impact of data localisation on the Indian BPO or KPO businesses?

Those are legitimate concerns. If we insist on data being housed on our soil, we also have to be prepared for reciprocal responses from other countries too. We need a mature multi-stakeholder engagement, including a government-to-government response, but within the framework of data localisation.

Tech companies say data localisation will adversely impact ease of doing business in India?

Let’s be real. In the name of ease of doing business you cannot trade-off the ease of people’s lives. India has already emerged as one of the two largest mobile markets in the world: with close to a billion people generating data every day. If the data that is being collected is not in your control, then what happens?

Tomorrow when you get into a standoff, let’s say a country imposes sanctions on another country; what happens to data being kept in that country? Will you still have access to that data? Or will an iron curtain come down on your access to your own data that is being stored overseas?

Comment on this article

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>