As the devastating pandemic turns the planet inward-looking, many nations will openly profess to regulate citizens’ data using localisation rules. These nations may say that data localisation is for accelerating their economies. In fact, what they have in mind is surveillance of their own citizens.

Forget the economies of geographical aggregation of data, expect the power-hungry politicians to make moves to store the data locally and make overseas data transfer difficult. That is why data localisation rules are multiplying at an alarming rate. Worse, they will multiply at a greater rate post pandemic, diverting internet traffic to numerous national channels.

States to Revel in Data-Curbing

Through the thicket of such protectionist data localisation rules, governments will try increasingly to store citizens’ data within their borders. These governments will ensure data cannot be transferred unless they meet local privacy or data protection laws and they are satisfied about how the information will be used.

Where will this lead to? Restrictive data residency laws will spring up in many geographies. Curb-happy governments will ensure collection and processing of data happen within their national boundaries, and obliterated from alien systems. Already, China localises personal, business and financial data of her citizens. Russia too does that. Indonesia and India will join this comprehensive data localising club soon.

Data Colonies to Flourish

As more countries localise data, the concept of data sovereignty will catch on. The rise of cloud computing will prod many countries to enact watertight laws for controlling and storing data. Similar laws are already underway in Australia. These laws, willy nilly, tend to create data colonies and make it possible to share locally-generated information within local borders. Tomorrow, governments may ask data-generating players to locate themselves within their borders.

Despite the outcry that such data localisation attempts will throttle the democratic internet, many countries are going ahead with their plans. More will join them tomorrow, possibly with an eye on populism and political dividends. Imagine if such parochialism pervades the internet, how concentrated will be data in few hands and how deep will be information inequality post-pandemic.

Digital Dictatorships to Rise

If the champions of data localisation are allowed to have their way, they may succeed in checking unwanted surveillance. But, that will doubly harm the internet if, on the top of it, national data flows are taxed. Will such taxation moves stop with directing more revenues into government coffers? No, they will not. They will restrict governments by building walls around their data.

That is sure to localise not the data alone, the internet as well. In the bargain, creating digital dictatorships and data tyrannies. The danger is thus real. Digital dictatorships will use localised data and information for their political interests and partisan designs. Certainly, such tyrannical attitudes will not be in the interest of democracy and data rights of citizens.

Personal Servers to Proliferate

There is a silver lining here though. Fear of digital dictatorships may facilitate the widespread commercial launch of personal web servers. These personal servers will allow individuals to store, share and publish information on the web or on their home networks. These servers will be controlled by individuals to serve their own needs in stark contrast to web servers operated by third parties. That should ensure every individual enjoys control over his personal information.

In Conclusion

When such personal web servers become a universal reality, websites can be set up and administered by individual internet users. That could well be the beginning of a new chapter in internet democracy, scalability limitations of personal web servers notwithstanding.