India and the geopolitics of technology

  • IASbaba
  • December 6, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 3,2:

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors
  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources

India and the geopolitics of technology

Context: Splinternet, the balkanisation of the internet, digital sovereignty, and data localisation are some of the more popular terms that have come to define the debate on the future of data, and, more broadly, on the future of technology.

The argument boils down to the different ways in which governments and transnational organisations (such as EU) choose to access, use, and allow data to flow across borders.

Different Types of Digital Markets

  • Digital authoritarianists: Countries that have closed their data markets to external actors — such as China — are commonly referred to as digital authoritarianists. 
  • Digital democracies: Those that are guided by judicial standards, the rule of law, and support the freer — but not always free — movement of data have come to be known as digital democracies. 

Digital Geopolitics and Data Diplomacy

  • The political, ideological, and economic tensions between, and within, various categories of actors shape what might be called the geopolitics of technology
  • This form of geopolitics is as much about competing domestic regulations, the renewed focus on anti-trust laws, and domestic standards on privacy legislations, as it is about international affairs. 
  • Greater cooperation on Artificial Intelligence (AI) or blockchain technologies, between entities in different countries, requires mediation and cooperation across borders. This is a matter of data diplomacy.
  • At least 14 countries have appointed negotiators to shape data diplomacy. 
  • Designations such as tech ambassador, ambassador of innovations, ambassador for digital affairs, and ambassador for cyber diplomacy are becoming increasingly common.

Huge Potential in India

  • Largest Digital Democracy: All data economies want to deal with India as it the largest open data market in the world. Close to 600 million Indians currently use 4G data. 
  • Increasing Data Consumption: India also has the highest per capita consumption of data (above 10 GB per month) anywhere in the world.

Challenges for India

  • Question of Data Openness: A lot will depend on the kind of digital democracy that India aspires to be. How open or closed will it be to the movement of data across its borders, is the moot question for the fast-growing number of global “tech ambassadors”. To an extent, the question of data openness will be resolved as India’s Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) becomes a law, potentially in 2021. 
  • Clarity on India’s Objectives: India needs to consider what exactly it wants out of the fast-changing geopolitics around technology that goes beyond banning Chinese apps. India’s evolving domestic data architecture should support its international interests, with the clear view to benefit from the same
  • Balancing Act: The aim of India’s Data Policy must be to negotiate its weight in data and find the right balance for India’s future between localisation and internationalisation. This balancing act has much to do with conceptualising a centralising vision, as well as with administrative organisation.

Way Forward

  • To start with, the government could consider appointing its own coordinator for technology. 
  • The aim should not be to add to the bean count of global tech ambassadors, but to appoint at least a minister of state-ranked individual to synthesise India’s pulsating story with the view to effectively shape the geopolitics of technology.

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