2017 world politics and the free flow of data

Donald Rumsfeld famously said “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns…but there are also unknown unknowns.” That’s how most businesses feel about the state of politics in the Western World at the moment.

When it comes to the free flow of data (something most international companies currently take for granted), there are three major changes on the horizon that will shape the future of the internet: Donald Trump, Brexit and the European Commission.

First, we have Donald Trump being sworn in on the 20th January. With his campaign being more notable for controversial tweets than fleshing out actual policy, global business is still unsure about what a Trump presidency will mean for them.

The stock market is currently bullish thanks to the perception a Trump administration will simplify business regulations, but no one knows if that will translate into more or less free movement of data.

>See also: An election disrupted by technology: Did tech help Trump win?

However, given his strong stance on counter-terrorism, it is likely we will see the ‘USA Patriot Act’ given more teeth in the coming years.

Seeing as the current version already gives US government agencies far reaching powers to request data from any US owned company, data privacy advocates are understandably nervous.

Brexit is the next major unknown, both in terms of the impact on British business as well as influencing similar movements in the rest of Europe – see the rise in popularity of anti-establishment and Eurosceptic parties in both France and Italy. And with less than three months from Article 50 formally being triggered, the global community still doesn’t know what Britain’s exit strategy is going to look like.

The latest hint, as of the 9th Jan, is that Theresa May plans on putting immigration controls ahead of access to the single market. If that is the case, then there will be a question mark over the free flow of data between the UK and the rest of the European Union. Data on UK citizens will have to be repatriated from the EU to British data centres and cloud providers and vice versa.

Which leads us finally on to the recently published (10th January) European Commission’s Free Flow of Data Initiative (FFDI) Communications proposal.

>See also: What Brexit and Trump mean for compliance

Up until then, the position of the European Commission was that member states (with the exception of certain specific classes of data) need not require data to be located within nation state boundaries – by law.

Companies would have the right to choose where to locate their data within the EU. To add to the confusion, they are also proposing to introduce new legal concepts and policy measures targeted at business to business transactions.

The only silver lining to this is that these proposals are still at the consultation phase and there may be opportunities for trade associations such as TechUK to push for reform.

So where does this leave software, cloud and hosting companies that want to enter the UK market over the next couple of years? Until very recently, data sovereignty has been a bit of a misnomer in the US and Europe as we’ve all become used to storing and transferring private citizen data across borders without much fuss.

The only certainty emerging from all this uncertainty, is that if you are looking to expand into the UK market, the safest long term bet is to put your servers and data into British based data centres.

By doing so, you will automatically be aligning the data security needs of your British clients with current and future UK data protection legislation – whatever that may be.

>See also: Power, politics and the workplace

Britain is also likely to adhere to the very strict data privacy rules it (ironically) helped craft in the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018.

If the data centre or hosting provider happens to be British owned, even better, as it won’t be subject to outside meddling from US agencies, as Microsoft has found out with some of its Irish based data centres.

In a world of ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’, buying British in 2017 is surely a wise ‘known known’.


Sourced by Jack Bedell-Pearce, managing director at 4D Data Centres

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...