Treating data as commons - The Hindu - 02-09-2020

The Gopalakrishnan Committee:

The committee was set up in 2019 and is referred to as the Expert Committee on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework.


The Gopalakrishnan Committee was set up by the government for developing a governance framework for non-personal data.
The Gopalakrishnan report is the first policy document globally that tries to address the issue of economic governance of digital society’s data.


The committee has suggested that the non-personal data of an individual generated in the country should be allowed to be used by various companies. It envisages wide sharing and availability of data in society.
Only the data collected from non-privately owned sources, from society or community sources, have to be shared when requested for. Data from privately owned sources remain private.
To ensure that companies share the required data, the report suggests developing a governance and legal basis for data-sharing requirements and obligations.
Community trustees would act as the representative of the community and would articulate the community’s data ownership claim.
Data collectors would be considered as data custodians who will use and secure data as per the best interests of the community concerned.
Data trusts would act as data infrastructures that will enable data sharing, sector-wise, or across sectors, and which can be run by various kinds of third-party bodies.
A Non-Personal Data Authority is envisaged to enable and regulate all the data-sharing activities.
The committee recommends a new legislation, to provide legal backing to the envisaged model.

Arguments in favour of data sharing:

The article discusses the need for data sharing and its importance to build a strong and fair digital economy.

Data as a public good:

Data collected from various communities are considered to be ‘owned’ by the relevant community. Such ‘community ownership’ means that the data should be shared back with all those who need it in society.
The Gopalakrishnan committee’s concept of ‘community data’ is in line with the above argument.

Infrastructural nature of data:

The article argues that like other public infrastructures like roads, electricity, etc., society’s digital data too can be considered a public infrastructure or ‘commons’ in the current digital economy.
There is a need to ensure that such infrastructure is available to all interested entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Overcoming digital monopoly:

A few corporations have vertically integrated all the digital components involved in the delivery of any digital service and have become global monopolies. Digital corporations have begun to dominate all sectors, including important ones such as education and health. Seven out of the top 10 companies globally today have a data-centric model.
Such an unsustainable concentration of digital power poses significant challenges.
This could have detrimental geopolitical impacts for some countries given the global domination of U.S. and Chinese companies in the digital sphere.
At the national level, monopolies can lead to the exploitation of consumers and small economic actors, and of strangulating competition and innovation.
One way of breaking the monopoly power would be by separating the infrastructural elements of digital service provision (data) from the business of digital service delivery. This could be enabled by ensuring access to society’s digital data to all. This would help address the scenario where dominant digital corporations are building exclusive control over any sector’s data as their key business advantage and hindering the progress of new companies.

Promoting domestic industries:

The proposed model would incentivize the entry of start-ups into the digital business sector by helping ensure the widespread availability of society’s data to all. If everyone gets greater access to non-personal data, they can develop their digital businesses or other activities with it.
This would result in increased economic activity resulting in higher economic growth and higher job opportunities.
A robust domestic data/AI industry will also help reduce India’s dependence on U.S. and Chinese companies.


India has done well in being the first country to come up with a comprehensive framework in the domain of digital policy and governance.
This could provide India a formidable first-mover advantage to acquire its rightful place in the digital world.

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