Data Sovereignty Meaning & the Importance of Free-Flowing Data

Data Sovereignty Meaning

This is part of Solutions Review’s Premium Content Series, a collection of contributed columns written by industry experts in maturing software categories. In this submission, DataStax VP of Strategy Bryan Kirschner offers his take data sovereignty meaning and the importance of free-flowing data. 

SR Premium ContentMassive amounts of data are produced every second of every day. Each time we place an order on Amazon or click on an advertisement, we add to the growing pile of digital information. The expansion of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and artificial intelligence technology has contributed greatly to this trend, with the volume of data generated worldwide expected to reach 181 zettabytes in 2025.

This monumental growth of data and where it is located has led to an uptick in unease around privacy and security concerns from data regulators across the globe. Ideas around “data sovereignty” have even prompted several countries to take steps to manage data created within their geographical borders. Although this move may be welcomed by some, there is great risk that the changes brought by this sovereignty will be harmful to global progress.

The Rise of Data Sovereignty: Data Sovereignty Meaning

Government control over data is growing, with countries, including the U.S., seeking to control the data generated by their companies, citizens, and agencies. Many are pushing for legislation that dictates the way data is transported across borders. In fact, laws like these have experienced a sharp increase in recent years as more governments stipulate that data must be stored within its country of origin.

As this trend continues, data sovereignty, which is the concept that ”the digital exhaust created by a person, business or government should be stored inside the country where it originated, or at least handled in accordance with privacy and other standards set by a government,” has sparked numerous conversations about how technology companies should handle data. As the U.S. takes small steps to foster data sovereignty, other regions have made much more significant strides to regulate data use and storage.

European Union legislators, for example, are leading the way globally by taking strong stances to protect data created within the EU in hopes of guarding the bloc’s valuable digital information, tightening online privacy, and regulating artificial intelligence usage.

Today, more than 100 countries have laws designed to enact data sovereignty. However, restricting the open flow of digital information is a trade-wars-style approach that does not consider the potential effects it could bring to global development and the pace of innovation. The data sovereignty model will hinder the creativity and collaboration that would have come from the free flow of information.

The Importance of Free-Flowing Data

Ground-breaking innovations that will solve our most pressing problems like climate change and world hunger can only emerge out of global collaboration. This is also important for safety and public health purposes, such as shared data between construction companies for improved site safety, or sharing data internationally to control diseases. Life-saving collaborations like these would be impossible without people sharing data and working together to promote change.

Similarly, the open-source movement has shown the world just how important it is to share knowledge, tools, and information. The ways we manage data need to follow this same path so that developers around the world can work together to design better tools and infrastructure.

This will only happen if data is recognized as non-rival — it can be used and reused by many without losing value. Its beauty lies in its flexibility; it can be temporary, anonymized, and protected, all while being shareable, making it useful in countless business and social scenarios. This is particularly important to societal growth, as the World Economic Forum found that digitalization holds greater social than commercial value.

Moving Forward with Better Data

While data sharing is essential to our society, it’s important to keep in mind the dangers associated with data falling into the wrong hands. Data must be used safely, fairly, and with privacy as a key consideration when dealing with personal information. Metadata is especially useful for this purpose, as it can designate and categorize different types of data. Metadata analysis and laws preventing the misuse of data will serve to ensure that data is used to a collective advantage. With effective technology stacks built for openness, fluidity, and metadata, the open sharing of data can be a driving force in business innovation as well as the social common good.

The recent approaches to data sovereignty make one thing clear: the current perspective is short-sighted in light of the fact that data sharing is key to today’s digital economy. Data sovereignty supporters fear the misuse of borderless data, but data can be shared safely around the world as we embrace the power of openness.

Those who criticized the open-source movement, notably including the president of Microsoft, quickly changed course once they were convinced of its value. Hopefully, those supporting the data sovereignty movement will experience the same change of heart as they open their eyes to the necessity of free-flowing data around the world, which can only result in better innovation and collaboration.

Bryan Kirschner
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