IGF 2017 WS #32 Data Localization and Barriers to Crossborder Data Flows: Toward a Multi-Track Approach

Short Title
Data Localization and Barriers to Crossborder Data Flows

Proposer's Name: Mr. William Drake

Proposer's Organization: University of Zurich

Co-Proposer's Name: Mr. Richard Samans

Co-Proposer's Organization: World Economic Forum


Ms. Fiona Alexander, government, Government of the United States of America Mr. Vint Cerf, private sector, Google Mr. William J. Drake, civil society, University of Zurich Ms. Anriette Esterhuysen, civil society, Association for Progressive Communication Mr. Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, civil society, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development Mr. Richard Samans, private sector, World Economic Forum Mr. Thomas Schneider, government, Government of Switzerland Ms. Hong Xue, civil society, Beijing Normal University Institute for Internet Policy & Law


The onsite moderator will pose a series of questions to the discussants and encourage interactive discussion. These will concern a) the causes and effects of the policies in questions; b) the role of trade mechanisms and digital trade discourse in shaping global responses to the policies; and c) the prospects for bridging the trade and Internet communities and for promoting multistakeholder engagement in the context of a multi-track approach to the issues.  The discussion will then be opened to to all participants for a wide-ranging dialogue.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions


William J. Drake; University of Zurich


Richard Samans, Head of Global Agenda, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum


•    Fiona M. Alexander, Associate Administrator, Office of International Affairs, NTIA, Department of Commerce, USA
•    Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President & Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
•    William J. Drake, International Fellow & Lecturer, U. of Zurich
•    Raúl Echeberría, Vice President, Global Engagement, Internet Society
•    Anriette Esterhuysen, Director for Global Policy and Strategy, Association for Progressive Communications
•    Torbjörn Fredriksson, Head, ICT Analysis Section, Division on Technology and Logistics, UN Conference on Trade and Development 
•    Goran Marby, President and CEO, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
•    Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, CEO, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development
•    Marietje Schaake, Member of the European Parliament, the Netherlands
•    Thomas Schneider, Vice-Director, Federal Office of Communications, Switzerland
•    Lee Tuthill, Counsellor, Trade in Services Division, World Trade Organization
•    Mary Uduma, Managing Director, Jaeno Digital Solutions, Nigeria
•    Hong Xue, Professor and Director of the Institute for Internet Policy and Law, Beijing Normal University, China

The past few years have witnessed an increasingly intense debate on the world-wide growth of national data localization restrictions and barriers to cross-border data flows (CBDF).  Such measures can significantly impair global electronic commerce, economic development, and many vital social processes that are predicated upon the movement of data across a relatively open and unfragmented Internet.  In response, provisions limiting them have been included in a number of pending or concluded “mega- regional” trade agreements and have been proposed in the World Trade Organization (WTO).   The World Economic Forum (WEF) has organized a process of analysis and dialogue on these issues that has been facilitated by papers prepared by Dr. William Drake. This IGF roundtable workshop built off the most recent paper in the WEF project, which proposes a multi-track approach to the issues including a) normative intergovernmental processes, b) multistakeholder processes, and c) reformed international trade processes.

The conversation was organized in two parts.  In the first half of the session, the roundtable participants discussed the forces driving and issues raised by data localization and CBDF barriers, and in particular the question of whether international trade policy mechanisms alone were sufficient to meet the challenges.  The speakers broadly agreed that trade agreements have a role to play, but that they face political challenges and some institutional constraints and thus may not be sufficient as solutions.  They also noted that as efforts to devise new trade rules face hurdles, work is needed to assess the applicability and implementation of existing agreements in the WTO and elsewhere.  At the same time, the participants drew attention to the need to address the concerns of those countries that have supported CBDF restrictions and opposed negotiating further trade rules in the near-term.  

In the second half of the session, the roundtable participants considered the proposed multi-track approach.  There was strong agreement on the need for a serious engagement between the international trade and Internet governance communities in the context of parallel movement along these tracks.  Participants noted the importance of ensuring complementarity and avoiding excess redundancy between work conducted in these different settings. Several speakers expressed particular interest in the role that multistakeholder processes could play in helping to explore the issues, consider the concerns of the respective parties, and set the agenda for international collaboration.  They also noted that progress would require the participation of not only experts, stakeholders and international negotiators, but also national-level regulators who deal with CBDF in such fields as tax, finance, and privacy and data protection.  Above all, participants agreed with the proposition that the international community should avoid taking actions that could damage and further fragment the Internet.

The discussion was then opened to the packed room and the online participants, and robust debate ensued.  Participants called attention to the new Dynamic Coalition on Trade and the Internet that was launched at this IGF and would be taking up the sort of issues addressed by the workshop;  emphasized the importance of free and equal access to data and suggested we consider data to be a collective resource of communities; expressed support for the three tracks but wondered if multi‐stakeholder decision‐making procedures can be developed;  argued that what we really need is a global anti‐trust mechanism and global data protection norms rather than trade agreements;  raised the question of whether data localization was really possible to sustain; noted that at the recent WTO ministerial meeting in Buenos Ares, 27 developing countries at all levels of development were among the 70 countries that agreed to begin discussing the possibility of negotiated rules in the WTO; argued that binding trade rules are important and allow governments leeway in implementation in accordance with national conditions; stressed the importance of freedom on information legislation; and emphasized the importance of civil society and other actors having positive agendas for international cooperation.

Gender Reporting

The room was full with the number of participants in the room between 60 and 80. A rough estimate is that about 40% were female. The session did not discuss gender equality and/or women’s empowerment.