Building trust in global cyberspace is crucial for a post-Covid-19 world

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Digitalization has been revolutionizing our economies and societies for over two decades. Data fuels the digital economy, but it does so best when it can flow internationally. However, country-level data rules are diverse, disjointed and sometimes disruptive to these flows, lowering citizens’ trust in digital services, slowing growth and hindering societal benefits. As more people connect and tasks shift online in the “new normal” of COVID-19, governments need to find collective solutions to keep cyberspace open. This new report shows how that can be achieved.

Until 2019, there was no forum to discuss all aspects of international data flows and related challenges to privacy, security and access to data. The Osaka Track, launched by governments under Japan’s G20 chairmanship nearly one year ago, is the first such international initiative. It works towards a goal of data free flow with trust. As a contribution to the effort, leaders from business, international organizations and academia, convened by the World Economic Forum, have developed a proposed framework to achieve this goal. The group has mapped tools that policy-makers and business can use to collaborate to ensure that data is safe, protected and accessible when it moves abroad. Building such trust can, in turn, help countries remove barriers to cross-border data flows.

“We have no global common rules for cross-border data flow today, and different regions have different rules. Going forward, cross-border data flow with trust will be a crucial key to the digital society. The World Economic Forum community has been working to build a clear way to trusted data flow since this concept was discussed at the Osaka Track. Further, as everyone is currently in a very tough situation due to COVID-19 impacts, it is even clearer that cross-border data flow will be essential for future economic activities as well as a sustainable society. I hope the report indicates what and how we should consider to realize this concept collectively as a member of the international community at a global level.” said Hiroaki Nakanishi, Executive Chairman of Hitachi, Japan.

“Our multinational customers trust us to move their data fast and securely across the globe, benefiting from our high-performance scalable network that we provide in 180 countries. Seamless, reliable and well-governed cross-border movement of data is essential for our customers’ global supply and value chains and for global development. I welcome this initiative by the World Economic Forum to facilitate discussion on this highly important and complex issue that is key for the future of the global digital economy,” said Bas Burger, Chief Executive Officer, Global Services, BT Group, United Kingdom.

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The report provides action points for trade negotiators, domestic regulators and technical standard-setting bodies, among others. For example, government trade commitments should aim to facilitate data flows, while regulatory cooperation can flesh out mechanisms for compliance with other domestic policy objectives. Delivering data free flow with trust also requires coordination across governance fora.

Importantly, governments with different degrees of trust in each other can still work together. An international approach to digitalization is crucial for a post-COVID-19 world – we need our governments to avoid a fragmented and uncertain global cyberspace.

By Di Dai, the World Economic Forum

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