Big Tech data centers — a threat to national sovereignty?

Over the past decade, the focus on data in terms of its use and misuse, longevity and privacy has resulted in laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and “Do Not Sell My Data” in the European Union. was approved. In California. Recently, the EU has also enacted legislation to curb the potential overreach of generative AI. However, these efforts only address issues around data monetization and misuse.

Much larger issues that have not yet been addressed in a comprehensive manner include the transfer of data, the transfer of ownership of data, the transfer of ownership of the site where the data resides, and the transfer of ownership of the site where the data resides. It is included. This larger issue has global implications for the sovereignty of nation-states, as free trade agreements under development allow for an open-ended approach to promoting e-commerce.

Up until now, wars have been waged by human soldiers stationed at “forward operating bases” with support from “main operating bases” (such as aircraft carriers) a little further away. It is a truism that all future wars will be fought in cyberspace, using remotely controlled drones and robot soldiers. Such a war would rely heavily on global data stored in national, regional, and local data centers and readily available via satellite to conduct electronic warfare.

Whether you call it a data center or a cloud computing center, it doesn’t really matter. Its purpose is to store all the data generated by computing devices, such as smartphones, laptops, desktops, and tablets, and make it accessible on an “on-demand” basis from anywhere at any time.

and whether the data is work-related or generated through purely personal activities such as social media interactions, online shopping, web browsing, and email exchanges with friends and family. is also not important. In short, global electronic surveillance and data collection by Big Tech, primarily Google, Meta, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, and Oracle, is being carried out almost for free. In most cases, the land on which these data centers are located and the data stored in these centers are considered U.S. assets and worth protecting at all costs.

Data centers owned and operated by big tech companies are typically located in large urban areas where real estate prices can be expensive. For example, India has data centers in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, and Bengaluru that are owned and operated by Big Tech. In contrast, there are no Big Tech data centers in China, with the exception of Apple, where large domestic IT companies such as Alibaba, ByteDance, and Baidu operate data centers.

Because data is virtual in nature, it can be bought, sold, transferred, reused, repurposed, or erased very easily. This is not the case with data centers. Data centers require elaborate physical infrastructure, including buildings that house large numbers of computers, mass storage, cooling equipment, physical security staff, and more.

When one IT company acquires another IT company in its entirety, the former owns all of the latter’s virtual and physical assets. In some cases, a company’s physical assets, such as real estate, may be more valuable than its virtual assets and may be the subject of an acquisition.

Colonial history provides some hints about how a country’s overseas possessions, such as trading posts, territories, and bases, were treated in the past. In the 19th century, wars frequently broke out between European countries, with the losers ceding their colonies to the victors. During World War II, although the United States was neutral during the first half of the war, the so-called Base Destroyer Agreement allowed Britain to transfer all bases in South America and the Caribbean to the United States in exchange for 50 American troops. Transferred. Warship.

Future cyber warfare will almost certainly involve data centers both as targets and as providers of data to identify, locate, and destroy enemy assets. Additionally, net neutrality rules are certain to be violated, with implications for countries not party to the war.

In the 20th century, oil changed the world’s geopolitical boundaries. In the 21st century, data plays a similar role.

Old wine in a new bottle or new wine in an old bottle? You decide.

(issued January 20, 2024, 19:13 IST)

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