The False Promise of Data Nationalism

December 9, 2013

WASHINGTON (Dec. 9, 2013) - The recent revelations of mass government surveillance have combined with protectionist trade and development tendencies to produce ever more vocal calls to have data stored domestically. However, this push for "data nationalism" is not only ineffective in making data more secure from inadvertent or voluntary disclosure, but will also ultimately hamper global trade in digital goods and services. 

The False Promise of Data Nationalism, a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), provides a short guide to the implications of storing data locally, on servers in foreign countries, or with a foreign-owned service provider under various conditions, and argues that countries should focus efforts on addressing government mandated access to data. The report recommends the United States engage its trade partners in developing a "Geneva Convention on the Status of Data" that establishes international legal standards for government access to data to address the legitimate concerns raised by the present surveillance controversy.

"A free and open Internet depends on the ability of individuals and companies to engage in commerce without geographic restrictions," says Daniel Castro, Senior Analyst with ITIF and author of the report. "Just as economic nationalism inevitably leads to lower productivity for firms and higher costs for consumers, data nationalism will similarly lead to poor economic outcomes without increasing security or privacy."

"Furthermore, the importance of trade in digital goods and services in our global economy suggests that there is an increasing need for clarity on jurisdictional questions about data, particularly for government access to data which cannot be resolved through private contracts alone," Castro adds. "A global compact, between key U.S. trading partners, will not only hold nations accountable for using or abusing their legal authority to access data within their borders, but will also help enable data-driven innovation unimpeded by geographic restrictions on the flow of data."

Read the report.


The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank whose mission is to formulate and promote public policies to advance technological innovation and productivity internationally, in Washington, and in the states. Recognizing the vital role of technology in ensuring prosperity, ITIF focuses on innovation, productivity, and digital economy issues. Learn more at

Contact: Samantha Greene
Phone: (202) 626 5744