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The Data Sovereignty Debate

Michelle Chivunga and I have just completed a paper on Digital Disruption in Africa for SAIIA ( Inevitably we had to tackle the issue of Data Sovereignty, which covers 2 issues – first, who owns your data? POPIA makes it clear that the individual or company owns their/its own data and, subject to law, has rights over how that data is used. Second, some states have also started to claim the right to store data generated in their territory (data in this case meaning far more than just personal data). Some states demand that all data generated within its territory must be stored within the national borders, other states have claimed limited ‘sovereignty’ over data – SA, for example, wants government and financial data to remain within the national boundaries. These rules may distort global trade flows and are therefore under discussion at the World Trade Organisation (WTO)   The Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network is planning a Data Sovereignty Framing Study which EFA has been asked to contribute to (unnecessary restrictions on cross-border data flows will, obviously, affect ecommerce). If you are interested in this issue, please fill in the Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network’s  short survey by January 4, 2021, #data here. There is also a debate planned by the European Software Alliance on 27 Jan. Anyone interested please let me know ([email protected]).

Readers who have followed the Brexit saga, will recall that the free flow of data was involved in the negotiations, which shows that this is not just a live issue for Africa. On 25 November, the European Commission presented a draft Data Governance Act, which aims to create a secure infrastructure for data sharing within Europe. This is the first proposal from the EU Commission’s broader Data Strategy.

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Alastair Tempest


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