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Crude critical, data for development

G-20 can develop a global framework to deal with data to ensure inclusiveness, spread prosperity and contain rouge states


Data is the new oil for humanity in near future. There’s no escaping from this reality. As a consequence, data security, management and governance are the new focus areas for both governments and private enterprises globally apart from actual consumers. Data supremacy will determine the global leadership in short to medium term.


Of late, this reality may have been camouflaged with huge talk on oil, natural gas assets, their ownership, pricing and access to these hydrocarbon energy products.

On-going Ukraine – Russia conflict has brought hydrocarbons to centre stage. And, energy markets have gone through a churn and continue to give sleepless nights to governments, suppliers and consumers in Europe given the price embargo slapped by 27-nations EU and the powerful G-7.

For countries like India that continue to be on high economic growth trajectory and spurt in energy needs, oil has become a key factor.

China being in the dumps owing to recent surge in Covid 19 cases and not being able to track asymptomatic cases has not altered the conversation beyond energy.

With a million barrels oil being imported each day and spending $ 100 billion annually, India has unsaturated demand for hydrocarbons to fuel its economy on course to catapult to $ 5 trillion in few years.

But, this transient surge in demand for hydrocarbons should not take the emphasis away from data that’s key to economic expansion and holistic development in India.

Data market in India is valued as a multi-billion industry and growing at a fast pace. This market is expected to grow manifold. For example, data centres alone that store and manage data in India have been projected to grow 15 per cent annually to US $ 10.9 billion in five years i.e. by 2027. Data analytics is big business in India expanding over 26.5 per cent annually and touched $ 40.22 billion this fiscal.


Amidst deep dive digitization in several sectors including security establishments, huge investments are being made on data generation, storage, data engineering, big data, hyper-personalisation etc.

Arguably, advances in internet of things, machine learning, big data analytics is driving the digital transformation process in firms, companies and services providers apart from governments as well as public offices.

Data continues to be the centre piece of global negotiations and India is no exception to this irreversible phenomenon of data-centric world. Explosive amount of data worth 1.2 trillion to 59 trillion giga bites generated over last ten years makes data management a huge challenge given the implications for India’s defensive and offensive interests on socio-economic and strategic fronts.

For instance, RBI governor Shaktikanta Das in a closed door meeting with select chief executives of financial technology companies pushed hard on data security and management as a big focal area. This is no pep talk as financial and business data along with consumer behaviour analysis determines market leaders for products and services. Unsolicited online Chinese loan frauds, online breaches reflect the data vulnerability India faces especially in financial services sector that’s on a big boom and expansion drive internationally.

Over a fortnight long data-breach at All India Institute of Medical Sciences targeting its 100-odd servers seeking Rs 200 crore ransom in crypto currency by Chinese hackers backed by People’s Liberation Army is a case in point. This also highlights data security as a key element in India’s strategic and economic affairs.

India’s financial capital Mumbai’s electricity systems and their data centres were targeted leading to massive outages in October 2020. Most intelligence reports pointed to PLA backed Chinese online hackers for this outage.  In May this year, Chinese PLA arm reportedly led the Threat Activity Group 38 (TAG – 38) to bring down seven state load despatch centres in northern region this May with virtual squatting on the country’s power data centres is a grim reminder of data politics evolving internationally to settle scores. There are several such instances in last few years where India’s data has been targeted in key areas.

On the other hand, data diplomacy plays a significant role in global engagement. India that recently assumed the Presidency of two powerful groups, G-20 and Shanghai Cooperation Organization for 2023 apart from 13-member United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has made “Data for Development” in this decade a key priority.

Healthcare, education, food security and digital financial inclusion will be centre piece of India’s global engagement on data. Once this is achieved based on experiences in countries like India especially during and in the aftermath of Covid 19 pandemic, one can expect to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs) much earlier. National Data and Analytics Platform set up by India can be leveraged to evolve a mechanism for data management globally.

In this context, World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates of creating $ 100 billion worth economic activity through data generated by drones in just India in sectors like agriculture, smart cities leading to over half a million jobs creation.           

International regulations should reflect the new reality relating to data. From India’s perspective, notwithstanding breaches, it’s eminently empowered to deal with large data from development areas, financial and corporate world as well as government.

The latest version of Digital Personal Data Protection Bill 2022 has mooted the idea of a dedicated commission to deal with offenses relating to data that’s regarded ‘sovereign’ and distinctly different from ‘personal’ data. Penalties on individuals, companies and groups that violate data protection for commercial means or otherwise should be slapped based on the crime. Penalties should be directly proportional to the kind of violations detected by the commission.

Secondly, defining ‘sovereign’ data for security purposes is paramount while ‘personal’ data privacy should be honoured. In this context, data fiduciary or purpose for which data is access should be determined. Anglo-Saxon laws on data protection may not work in the Indian context and this principle has been recognized in the new version of the bill.

Housing data – in India or elsewhere – is a big issue that’s being debated. A puritan analysis recommends that all sovereign data with security, economic and personal implications should be stored within the country.

There’s no reason why data should be a pullback factor. Instead, it has the potential to become an enabling tool to spread happiness, prosperity and inclusiveness if handled fairly.

(author is Director & Chief Executive, Centre for Integrated and Holistic Studies, a bipartisan think tank based in New Delhi)

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