Trading away our digital rights

Global trade treaties are no longer just about reducing tariff. They represent a whole new global legal system supplanting national policy space and sovereignty, in the interest of global big business. With the digital phenomenon restructuring most social sectors, it is little surprise that global trade negotiations are now eyeing the digital area in an attempt to pre-emptively colonise it.

Who owns big data

Big data is the key resource in the digital space. It is freely collected or mined from developing countries, and converted, or manufactured, into digital intelligence in developed countries, mostly the U.S. This digital intelligence forms a kind of “social brain” that begins to control different sectors and extract monopoly rents.

Uber’s chief asset, for instance, is not a network of cars and drivers. It is digital intelligence about commuting, public transport, roads, traffic, city events, personal behavioural characteristics of commuters and drivers, and so on.

To judge how the digital society is shaping, just extrapolate this situation to every sector; not only the regular commercial ones but also key social areas of education, health, agriculture, and, indeed, governance.

It is important to frame who owns data and digital intelligence, and how their value should be socially distributed. Most key data required for policymaking is increasingly with global data companies. Would the society or government then buy data and intelligence even for crucial public purposes from these digital companies, when the data actually come from our various social and personal interactions over digital platforms? Does the ownership of the platform give corporations economic ownership of all the data so produced? Is ownership of data of sensitive sectors to be treated differently? These are key political economy questions that must be sorted out first.

Accessing the network

Fronting for the global big business, developed countries make three key demands at digital trade talks. The first is a free and unhindered access to the “network” running throughout our society to mine social and personal data from every nook and corner. This includes full access to local networks, right…

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