Stephanie Segal at CSIS: “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan made news at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month when he announced Japan’s aspiration to make the G20 summit in Osaka a launch pad for “world-wide data governance.” This is not the first time in recent memory that Japan has taken a leadership role on an issue of keen economic importance. Most notably, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) lives on as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), thanks in large part to Japan’s efforts to keep the trading bloc together after President Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the TPP. But it’s in the area of data and digital governance that Japan’s efforts will perhaps be most consequential for future economic growth.
Data has famously been called “the new oil” in the global economy. A 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that global data flows contributed $2.8 trillion in value to the global economy back in 2014, while cross-border data flows and digital trade continue to be key drivers of global trade and economic growth. Japan’s focus on data and digital governance is therefore consistent with its recent efforts to support global growth, deepen global trade linkages, and advance regional and global standards.
Data governance refers to the rules directing the collection, processing, storage, and use of data. The proliferation of smart devices and the emergence of a data-driven Internet of Things portends an exponential growth in digital data. At the same time, recent reporting on overly aggressive commercial practices of personal data collection, as well as the separate topic of illegal data breaches, have elevated public awareness and interest in the laws and policies that govern the treatment of data, and personal data in particular. Finally, a growing appreciation of data’s central role in driving innovation and future technological and economic leadership is generating concern in many capitals that different data and digital governance standards and regimes will convey a competitive (dis)advantage to certain countries.
Bringing these various threads together—the inevitable explosion of digital data; the need to protect an individual’s right to privacy; and the appreciation that data has economic value and conveys economic advantage—is precisely why Japan’s initiative is both timely and likely to face significant challenges