Data sovereignty, of whom? Limits and suitability of sovereignty frameworks for data in India

By Anja Kovacs and Nayantara Ranganathan


Sovereignty is seeing renewed relevance in the age of data in India as it has become the framework of choice in a number of data governance proposals by the Indian government. To understand the scope, import and consequences of these reassertions of sovereignty, however, it is important to unpack the nature of these claims as they have been put forward. In particular, to what extent does this type of sovereignty allow for the exercise of autonomy and choice of the Indian people? This paper will demonstrate that such assessments crucially depend on how we construct the nature of data. In most dominant discourses, data is described as a resource of some sort. However, in practice the line between our physical bodies and our virtual bodies is increasingly becoming irrelevant: data, then, emerges not so much as a resource that is simply out there, but as an extension of our bodies. In order to benefit the people of India, assertions of sovereignty in the face of data colonialism will need to take these shifting realities regarding the nature of data into account. Through an assessment of policy proposals relating to sovereignty in the realm of data and new technologies, we seek to examine to what extent policy in India does indeed recognise these new realities, and what the value of these new assertions of sovereignty for the people of India consequently is.