Data now underpins and reflects practically all economic sectors and social activities. It is no surprise therefore that policy-making, at local, national, and international levels, also critically relies on data. The UK’s National Data Strategy provides an example of how countries are seeking to leverage data for economic growth and societal well-being while ensuring appropriate protections for the flow of data across sectoral and geographic boundaries.
As data becomes ubiquitous, its governance becomes increasingly intricate, requiring a new and holistic approach to data governance. The Datasphere Initiative is a global network of stakeholders with a mission to build agile frameworks to responsibly unlock the value of data for all. We recognise that personal and non-personal data sharing is paramount both to inform individual decisions and to address major global challenges.
Data sparks many policy questions related to trust, consumer protection, privacy, and security, but also trade, competition, skills, economic imbalances, societal impacts, etc. These issues are further complicated when transferring data across borders. Creating interoperability between national data regimes to minimize friction when transferring data between different countries is a necessary yet complex step to support connectivity and global value chains.
In an effort to explore how data governance solutions can be more conducive to the complex challenges of data and more agile and multistakeholder in nature, the Datasphere Initiative with the support of the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport has produced a report “Sandboxes for data: creating spaces for agile solutions across borders”.
The report sets out a preliminary roadmap for policymakers to design and initiate a new type of policy testing environment called “sandboxes for data”. Sandboxes are testing environments where hosted data can be accessed and used (“operational”), or collaborative processes where regulators and firms evaluate new technologies within a regulatory framework (“regulatory”), or a combination of both.
Sandboxes can be useful for innovators and businesses, by enhancing data sharing among participants or by reducing legal and regulatory uncertainty and allowing them to have access to a controlled testing environment. Regulatory sandboxes can also provide regulators with an understanding of the latest technological developments and solutions to help anticipate the types of policy updates needed to address emerging technologies and business models. Ultimately, sandboxes offer a new policy tool that harnesses agility and flexibility that can help address the complex, interdependent and contextual nature of data.
It is important that sandboxes are not seen as a silver bullet nor as an excuse for blind deregulation. On the contrary, they should complement existing cooperation mechanisms, institution-building efforts, and initiatives that are seeking to find innovative solutions for cases where the legal situation around responsible data sharing is unclear or uncertain.
Driven by data
As digital technologies advance and development accelerates, reliance on data becomes more intense. In fact, most of the technological development we have seen over the past few years is driven by data, whether we are talking about the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, or artificial intelligence technology. This puts data not just in the center of attention in terms of how economies are run and society structured but also calls for the need to design systems that accommodate its constantly-changing nature.
The stakes are high on tackling the emerging global challenges and bottlenecks related to cross-border data flows. The UK’s National Data Strategy sets out some important objectives for championing good-quality, available data across the globe. Building trust in cross-border data flows and the broader system within which data flows will also be of significant importance to global groupings of countries such as the G7 and the G20 to build-on efforts and include further evidence collection and multistakeholder exchange on implementation and lessons learned from current practices. For data governance to have any real chance of producing workable solutions, experimentation is key. Data sandboxes could provide a new and innovative policy tool to manage data securely across borders.