Data sovereignty

In today’s digital age, the importance of data can never be overemphasized. It serves as the backbone of numerous industries, fueling innovation, economic growth, and societal development. However, safeguarding data and ensuring its accessibility are paramount concerns for nations worldwide. Pakistan, too, stands at a crucial crossroads in its digital journey, with the choice to store data within its borders or risk potential vulnerabilities by allowing it to reside in unknown locations abroad. In this op-ed, I will discuss the benefits of keeping Pakistan’s data within the country, driving job creation, enhanced security, and the promotion of local innovation.

Driving Digitalization and Job Creation

Storing data within Pakistan presents a unique opportunity to drive digitalization and create employment opportunities. By keeping data within the country, engineers and professionals can develop innovative digital services, contributing to technological advancements. This, in turn, leads to the creation of new jobs in the digital sector, fostering economic growth and reducing unemployment. For instance, data centers have become a sunrise sector in India, generating significant employment opportunities in the tech industry. Similarly, by investing in local data centers, Pakistan can nurture a thriving ecosystem of skilled professionals and encourage strategic investments that benefit the entire nation.

Enhancing Data Security and Sovereignty

One of the primary concerns associated with storing data outside the country is the risk of it falling into the wrong hands or at the liberty of governing laws of the foreign land. By maintaining data sovereignty, Pakistan can ensure that sensitive information remains secure and protected from unauthorized access. Storing data within Pakistan reduces vulnerability to cyber threats and provides greater control over data regulations and governance. Additionally, it fosters trust among citizens, businesses, and government entities, strengthening the overall digital infrastructure of the nation.

Many developing countries have taken significant steps towards data sovereignty by implementing strict data localization laws and regulations. These policies require companies operating within these nations, especially those handling sensitive personal data, to store that data within the country’s borders. This move aims to enhance data security, protect citizens’ privacy, and promote the growth of the domestic data center industry.

Promoting Local App Development

A crucial advantage of keeping data within Pakistan is the promotion of local app development. By nurturing a robust digital ecosystem, Pakistan can unleash the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens. Access to local data stimulates the development of innovative applications tailored to the needs of the Pakistani population. This not only addresses local challenges but also contributes to the growth of the app economy, attracting investments and creating opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs. The retention of data within the country empowers local developers and ensures that the digital landscape reflects Pakistan’s unique culture and requirements.

For example, Malaysia has experienced significant growth in its local app development industry by prioritizing data sovereignty. Local developers have capitalized on this access to data to create apps catering to specific regional needs, resulting in a flourishing app ecosystem that serves both domestic and international markets.

Safeguarding National Interests

Data is an invaluable national asset, and its protection is vital to safeguard national interests. By storing data within Pakistan, the country can exercise greater control over its digital infrastructure and reduce dependency on foreign entities. This independence allows for strategic decision-making, ensuring that the nation’s data remains protected and utilized in the best interest of its citizens.

Brazil serves as a notable example of recognizing the importance of safeguarding its national interests through a data localization policy. Brazil mandated that certain data must be stored within its borders, thereby protecting sensitive information and enhancing cybersecurity. This policy not only bolstered national security but also promoted the growth of local data-related industries, contributing to economic development.

Empowering Artificial Intelligence

Data serves as the fuel for artificial intelligence (AI), a transformative technology that holds immense potential. To fully capitalize on AI advancements, Pakistan must have access to relevant and diverse datasets. Storing data within the country provides the foundation for AI research and development, empowering industries to leverage the benefits of AI-driven solutions.

For instance, Vietnam’s approach towards data sovereignty is helping it strengthen its AI leadership in the region. This year, Vietnam’s AI Readiness Score reached 51.82 out of 100, surpassing the global average of 47.72 and helping the country climb 14 places compared to last year. Moreover, The International Development Research Centre in Canada and the UK’s Oxford ranked Vietnam 6th in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). By prioritizing data localization and investing in digital infrastructure, Vietnam has created an environment conducive to AI innovation, setting an inspiring example for countries like Pakistan.

Conclusion

The decision to keep Pakistan’s data within its borders is not merely a matter of technological infrastructure; it is a strategic choice that impacts the nation’s digital future. By embracing data sovereignty, Pakistan can unlock numerous benefits, including job creation, enhanced security, local innovation, and national empowerment.

The cloud policy introduced by the Ministry of Information Technology last year is a promising initial step, aiming to alleviate the government’s capital expenditure burden by implementing a cloud-first approach for all new public projects. Similarly, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has been actively encouraging financial institutions to harness onshore cloud services. SBP Cloud Outsourcing Framework permits all regulated entities to outsource for all types of workloads to onshore cloud. To outsource material workload to offshore cloud requires SBP approval with the exception of EMIs, non-designated PSPs/PSOs. We hope that this progressive approach will be adopted in other industries too.

As the world becomes increasingly reliant on data, it is imperative for Pakistan to prioritize data sovereignty and harness this invaluable resource for the betterment of the country and its citizens.

2023-09-25

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