Zuckerberg warns of authoritarian data localization trend

If free nations demand companies store data locally, it legitimizes that practice for authoritarian nations which can then steal that data for their own nefarious purposes, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He laid out the threat in a new 93-minute video of a discussion with Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari released today.
Zuckerberg has stated that Facebook will refuse to comply with laws and set up local data centers in authoritarian countries where that data could be snatched.
Russia and China already have data localization laws, but privacy concerns and regulations proposals could see more nations adopt the restrictions. Germany now requires telecommunications metadata to be stored locally, and India does something similar for payments data.
While in Democratic or justly-ruled nations, the laws can help protect user privacy and give governments more leverage over tech companies, they pave the way for similar laws in nations where governments might use military might to see the data. That could enhance their surveillance capabilities, disrupt activism, or hunt down dissidents.
Zuckerberg explains that:
When I look towards the future, one of the things that I just get very worried about is the values that I just laid out [for the internet and data] are not values that all countries share. And when you get into some of the more authoritarian countries and their data policies, they’re very different from the kind of regulatory frameworks that across Europe and across a lot of other places, people are talking about or put into place . . . And the most likely alternative to each country adopting something that encodes the freedoms and rights of something like GDPR, in my mind, is the authoritarian model, which is currently being spread, which says every company needs to store everyone’s data locally in data centers and then, if I’m a government, I can send my military there and get access to whatever data I want and take that for surveillance or military. I just think that that’s a really bad future. And that’s not the direction, as someone who’s building one of these internet services, or just as a citizen of the world, I want to see the world going. If a government can get access to your data, then it can identify who you are and go lock you up and hurt you and your family and cause real physical harm in ways that are just really deep.”
That makes the assumption that authoritarian governments care about their decisions being previously legitimized, which might not be true. But for nations in the middle of the spectrum of human rights and just law, seeing role model countries adopt these laws might convince them it’s alright.
Zuckerberg said on this week’s Facebook earnings call that Facebook accepts the risks to its business of being shut down in authoritarian countries where it refuses to comply with data localization laws.
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