IT Sovereignty in India – The Data Centre Dimension

April 11, 2014

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In my last post I had mentioned that we, as a country, have somewhere lost the willingness or rather courage to try when it comes to becoming a truly sovereign nation in regard to our IT capabilities…. And that includes Data Sovereignty!

Data sovereignty is the concept that information which has been converted and stored in binary digital form is subject to the laws of the country in which it is located.

Many of the current concerns that surround data sovereignty relate to enforcing privacy regulations and preventing data that is stored in a foreign country from being subpoenaed by the host country’s government.

The wide-spread adoption of cloud computing services, as well as new approaches to data storage including object storage, have broken down traditional geopolitical barriers more than ever before. In response, many countries have regulated new compliance requirements by amending their current laws or enacting new legislation that requires customer data to be kept within the country the customer resides.

Needless to say, our current government’s policy paralysis has kept India away from any such legislation, and has made the nation vulnerable in this sphere as in many others.

Why is such a legislation important… well, simply because once documents are digitized and stored outside your borders, the host nation has an easy and absolute access to your data. Now considering that 90% of our personal data is stored abroad, be it

  1. Banking
  2. Credit Card
  3. Social Networking
  4. Private Chats
  5. Official and personal emails

Don’t you feel overexposed???

Now add to it the following and the situation will actually look scary….

  1.  Social Media Networks like Facebook, Whatsapp, WeChat, Hangouts, Skype, Twitter, Line, Telegram and so on have recently become extremely popular in India. Police departments keep on saying that they can track people who send any illegal data, but the truth is that the Police can only track those people whose complaints are received to them by someone who has received a message/photo or voice byte from the culprit. It is impossible for the Police department to identify source or a message if it has taken more than multiple hops. All these Social Media Networks have the Data Physically located abroad and any severe breach of law or circulation of anti-national messages can get viral within minutes and it will become impossible for the law enforcement authorities to identify the Culprit. Muzzafarnagar Riots are the best example of what Social Media can do to harm the peace and harmony of the nation.
  2. Many online shopping carts have become popular recently, but most of those online shopping stores/carts are hosted outside India. User data is collected by such online shopping carts serving Indian customers. Acquisition of such online shopping stores by some anti-indian or Terrorist organization can result in serious problems for Indian people, as the data would be residing outside India and the law enforcement authorities will face severe challenge in getting the data wiped from the foreign location.
  3. Search Engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing setup few servers in India for VPN tunneling and the entire data is hosted abroad. Geolocation of key people is updated continuously in the Search Database of such Search Engines.
  4. Many large organizations who have some or the other illegal operations prefer to host their data abroad. If data is hosted in a few developing countries then it is impossible to find out the owner of data or respective server identified as culprit. Even if the information of the owner of the Server is shared by the respective Data Centre, 90% chances would be that the person who registered that Server would not be existing or the identity would be fake. Many Indian organizations having black money parked abroad host their Tally/accounting data in such countries to avoid any legal action from the Law Enforcement Agencies.
  5. Bigdata, which has recently become a big topic of discussion is all about Data Analytics. Gmail, Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter now know who you are, what you like, what makes you smile and what makes you angry. Servers used by these Social Media Network companies for Big Data analytics are hosted abroad. Any major finding from such analytics can easily get into the hands of Terrorists or anti-social elements. Very recently there was a discussion on Whatsapp amongst users that there was no “India Flag” in whatsapp though they had flags of many other countries in their list of Emoticons. Within 10 days Whatsapp sent an updated version which had India’s flag in No. 1 position. This shows the power of Data Analytics. If you check the right hand side advertisement in your Gmail mailbox, you will notice that all the advertisements shown to you are based on your liking and the topics you write to others through your Gmail account.

The answer lies in enforcing Indian Data to stay in India, in Indian Data Centres, in setups within our borders.

The data centre business is USD 100 Bn plus globally, however India remains at a USD 2 Bn mark. Looking at our contribution to world IT market, this looks dismal, reason being most of Indian data is hosted out.

The data centre business value chain spans across real estate, equipment, applications and services. Going with a “self-all” policy will not only help create employment across all these parts of the value chain, but also maintain Data Sovereignty. Another major benefit of this“My Data In My Borders” policy would be improved earnings in forex; as we would build capacities, given the economies of infrastructure and labour, and given the proposed simplification of taxes, our value benefit would be difficult to compete with. We would stand a great chance of pulling business from foreign locations. In an era, when it seems that we would be losing out on the BPO earnings, it’s time we thought of alternatives that would keep us in Forex surplus.

Improved connectivity, improved penetration of the internet, mobile usage and the popularity of social media has already resulted in data explosion. Our promise of digital literacy, and moving key systems to e-governance would only increase the data load. Data creation and analytics at enterprise level have grown exponentially, and is only expected to grow further. Data Centres have emerged as viable assets that can manage this data load, change the whole expense from Capex to Opex, and allow the firms to deploy their resources in core business areas. Data Centres thus are critical to the Enterprise Environment that we intend to create and hence the governance to come will have to give a proactive place to the Data Centres in their enterprise policy.

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