GSMA calls for free-flowing data across APAC borders

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The GSMA has put its weight behind the concept of letting data flow freely across borders with a new research report that claims governments in Asia-Pacific can expand the region’s digital economy and unlock further socioeconomic benefits for their citizens by removing unnecessary restrictions on the movement of data internationally.

The study – “Regional Privacy Frameworks and Cross-Border Data Flows” [PDF], issued at a GSMA conference in Bangkok – says that striking the right balance in the region’s data privacy regulations could significantly enhance economic activity and future innovation in 5G, IoT and artificial intelligence.

The GSMA also cites a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report that says international data flows have increased global GDP by 10.1% over the past decade, and their annual contribution to global GDP has already surpassed $2.8 trillion a larger share than the global trade in goods. The ability to transfer, store and process data enables commerce, spurs innovation, and drives the development of new technologies, platforms, services and infrastructure.

Although the Asia-Pacific region has made good progress in the development of data privacy frameworks that protect consumers while also allowing data to flow across borders, the report highlights that variances in data privacy laws across countries is holding back trade and innovation.

The report also calls for better links at a regional level between Asia’s two main privacy frameworks – the ASEAN Framework on Personal Data Protection and the APEC Privacy Framework – to enable cross-border data flows.

“The immense economic opportunities arising from the digital economy and data flows are indisputable,” said Boris Wojtan, GSMA’s director of privacy. “Working towards a pan-Asian approach to data privacy is critical to protecting the rights of individuals and unlocking this economic potential, not only in Asia, but around the world. Regulating people’s personal information by a patchwork of geographically bound privacy laws will only restrict how Asian companies can innovate and bring better products and services to consumers in the future. Now is an important time for all countries to take actions to bridge the differences in their privacy regulation and achieve greater alignment.”

The study highlights specific steps that all countries, including less developed states, can take to support greater alignment across Asia:

  • APEC and ASEAN governments should consider the options outlined in the study to bridge the differences between their respective privacy frameworks and seek interoperability with other regional frameworks
  • Countries should advance the alignment of national-level privacy regimes by conducting a landscape analysis to see where they stand in terms of data privacy and reviewing the experience of other governments in the region to understand common paths forward
  • Policymakers in government and privacy enforcement authorities should support deeper collaboration and cross-learning across the region
  • Governments should also draw on non-government privacy experts in the private sector and academia to inform their approaches.

The GSMA also released a related separate report [PDF] that describes the benefits of global data flows for individuals, businesses and governments, and explores the damaging impact of increased data localization measures, which can either require companies to store data locally, or even prohibit companies from transferring personal data altogether.

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