Earlier this month, the Chinese government announced the launch of a new Data Security Initiative. Outlining its components, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he hoped that China can provide a “blueprint” for the formulation of international rules for digital security.
Wang’s announcement came a month after the United States launched its new Clean Network program in early August.
The US initiative explicitly seeks to exclude Chinese telecommunications firms, apps, cloud service providers, and undersea cables from internet infrastructure used by the US and partner countries. The initiative draws upon a range of different standards, such as the Prague Proposals and the European Union’s 5G Toolbox.
At the same time, China launched a new High-level Digital Dialogue with the European Union. The dialogue revealed that while approaches towards data protection remains a key point of divergence, the EU does believe that China will “play a role in defining how global technological developments will go forward.”
This is perhaps also an acknowledgement of China’s expanding global technology footprint. Since the launch of the Digital Silk Road, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2015, Chinese tech giants’ global reach has grown across a range of sectors, such as telecommunications, smart cities, telemedicine, internet finance, e-commerce, cloud services, and even satellite services.
This effort has been accompanied by greater R&D focus, boosting indigenous innovation, devising domestic regulation, and a planned blueprint for reshaping global technology standards by 2035.
For instance, perhaps the most innocuous-sounding among Wang’s eight points is the one about cross-border data retrieval for law enforcement, which the proposal says should be addressed through judicial assistance and other channels.
There is international recognition of the problem the nature of the MLAT system brings with it. The Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, aimed to address it in a multilateral and bilateral manner respectively.
That China aims to come up with a new standard for data flows of such nature could, therefore, be problematic for Indian law enforcement. At best, it could result in a situation similar to the status quo, with months required to deal with a single request from law enforcement.
At worst, it may require law enforcement agencies to regularly go through another set of hurdles to achieve cross-border data retrieval. Therefore, from an Indian perspective, it is clear that the government should act quickly to devise strong data policy frameworks domestically that address some of these issues.