Analysts of India’s foreign relations are realists. They are well aware that the country’s “global strategic partnership" with the United States has multiple dimensions and that business has assumed centre stage ever since Donald Trump entered the White House. That the relationship isn’t as smooth as New Delhi would like was made amply clear by US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’s visit to India. Among the issues on which he expressed dissatisfaction with Indian policy was the country’s new data localisation norms (part of the draft e-commerce policy), under which foreign companies are required to store all their information of Indian customers on Indian soil. According to Ross, this would amount to a discriminatory and trade-distortive practice. India, however, is unlikely to budge on it.

New Delhi would do well to clarify its stance. Data localisation, according to India’s proposed e-com policy, seeks to treat “anonymised data" collected in the country as a “national asset" that must be kept within Indian borders even if gathered by foreign internet platforms and services. This is a fair point, the US must grant, since it reflects the country’s sovereign view of consumer data that originates here.

Yet, for the consistency of that principle, we must ensure that this “national asset" belongs to the people of India—to the very individuals whose information it is. This would call for a proper data protection law that empowers citizens to exercise their right to such data. After all, data security is fast assuming the shape of a major issue for millennials. Policymakers could take a look at the European Union’s hybrid approach towards data localisation, as outlined by its General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR). This allows the EU to exercise its jurisdiction over all personal data of EU origin being used anywhere in the world. Also, it has spelt out rules on user consent, data erasure, right to access and data portability. India must widen the scope of its debate on data localization beyond geography to include pressing matters of safety.