Global Centre for Technology, Innovation
and Sustainable Development

Driving Cross-border Data Flows

cross border data


Physical trade between countries defined the last century, and the flow of data across borders is already proving a key characteristic of this one. This is particularly the case in enabling data-driven export industries such as smart cities - and leveraging the potential of emerging technology such as Artificial Intelligence.

Cross-border data flows have enormous potential for driving economic and social development, and are a key foundation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. This data is worth trillions of dollars for global GDP, and restrictions on its flow can result in very meaningful constraints to national growth and development. With this in mind, the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development has identified the key policies, norms, principles, and technical foundations to drive the positive progress of cross-border data.


In the ASEAN region, a small number of countries have started to explore the mechanisms needed to encourage cross-border data flow with the purpose of stimulating innovation and economic growth. Singapore, where the UNDP Global Centre is based, has made considerable progress here.

In the region, existing regional and international trade agreements have informed the approach to cross-border data flows. However, the broad and non-digital focus of these tools requires underpinning with more specific policies. This includes specific national laws, policies and structures – in particular, legislation, regulation, and other guidelines – that inform cross-border data flows. Of particular importance are privacy rights, data protection legislation, intellectual property rights, and cybersecurity.




Technical interoperability also plays a fundamental role in cross-border data flows – and in the data life-cycle more broadly. Technical interoperability enables sharing of data between systems, and making use of this data. Systems need to have the ability to achieve data interoperability and interconnectivity to ensure that the information flows in a seamless manner when being provided to those who need it, when they need it, where they need it, and in the form in which they need it.

In a complex and fast-moving, and global by definition, area, there is much for governments to explore. This includes:

  • Ensuring meaningful national engagement with cross-border data, including exploring the notion of ‘open-by-default’ international data policies.
  • Formalising shared responsibility for aspects such as data privacy. This also includes tackling a growing divergence between countries in the context of priorities such as privacy and other areas.
  • Minimising data localisation or other protectionist approaches – including mentorship of countries considering taking this path.
  • Meaningful engagement with industry and the broader private sector, as well as considering more agile and experimental approaches to regulation (for example, the APIX and sandbox initiatives of the Monetary Authority of Singapore).

Cross-border data is an important aspect of national, regional, and global economic development. The below study aims to provide an initial foundation for ASEAN countries - and those outside of the region - in shaping the structures and approaches needed to leverage the benefits of cross-border data. This perspective will be crucial in seizing opportunities, as well as addressing shared global challenges in using data to drive policymaking, service delivery, and wider development.



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