Treating data as commons

Author: Parmindar Jeet Singh

The article was first published in The Hindu on September 2nd, 2020. The views are of the individual author.

The Gopalakrishnan Committee set up by the government on developing a governance framework for non-personal data recently put out its draft report for public consultation. The report’s main purpose is to ensure wide sharing and availability of data in society. To ensure that companies share the required data, it was found necessary to develop strong conceptual and legal basis for data-sharing requirements and obligations.

To understand why data sharing is needed, and its importance to a strong and fair digital economy, we must first recognise the infrastructural nature of data. Industrial age infrastructure — roads, electricity, etc. — were often publicly owned. Even if there was some private role, these were run as closely regulated public utilities. The idea was to ensure widespread availability of such infrastructural elements to all, and avoid wasteful duplications. Society’s data have a similar nature for a digital economy.

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