Deepening concerns about digital authoritarianism have led many observers to posit that a stark contest between democracy and autocracy is poised to shape the governance of technology and data. In this reckoning, the world’s democracies are said to have open approaches that rely on market mechanisms. By contrast, the world’s autocracies privilege the role of the state and aim to strengthen its capacity to harness all data, both public and private.
But this binary framing elides the extent to which democracies have developed diverse approaches. Some democracies, especially in Asia, have adapted policy and regulatory features that deepen and extend the reach of the state. Some democracies, again especially in Asia, have developed data governance regimes that reflect the unique features of their institutions and political cultures. It is important to dig into this diversity, especially at a moment when there is a growing focus on data policy at both the international and national levels.
This volume makes clear that the world is not fracturing into just two spheres—an autocratic Sinosphere dominated by China and an open, democratic sphere centered on the transatlantic West. Instead, third countries, many of which are consolidated democracies, are influencing debates about data policy, the business models of technology firms, and regulatory frameworks. If these countries can collaborate, leverage the power of open standards and open-source software, and demonstrate new approaches to digital development, they could become leaders in their own right as the next phase of the data economy unfolds.
The chapters that follow highlight some of the alternative models that have originated in two major Asian democracies, India and South Korea (hereafter, Korea). Comparing these two countries’ distinctive approaches through case studies demonstrates just how much more complex the world will be than the commonplace prediction of a battle between U.S.- and Chinese-centric approaches.
This volume is a sequel to a 2021 study, The Korean Way With Data, a multichapter deep dive into three critical aspects of Korea’s distinctive experiences with data: data resilience, data localization and privacy, and online authentication and data access control. This follow-up volume extends and expands that earlier stream of work by explicitly comparing Korea’s experience in two areas—open data and cross-border data governance—with that of India, a leader in software and information technology (IT) services.
Bluntly put, to those who believe that the world faces a stark or binary choice between transatlantic-centered democratic models or China-centric authoritarian ones, this volume should be an eye-opener. Like the 2021 volume on Korea, this study demonstrates that additional players are leading the way in several key respects. Both India and Korea are consolidated democracies, and neither of them is simply emulating U.S. or European experiences. Instead, they are pioneering their own approaches, mixing and matching elements of their unique democratic institutional frameworks with national requirements and policies derived from distinctive political cultures.
Major Asian democracies like India and Korea are not simply following the lead of the United States and Europe on data governance. Instead, in many areas connecting to both open data and cross-border data, they are pioneering their own unique approaches, which are anchored firmly in their own consolidated democratic institutions. Much can be learned—and some things can be emulated—from the experiences of these two unique and important Asian democracies.