We Need to Talk About Data


We Need to Talk About Data

Framing the Debate Around the Free Flow of Data and Data Sovereignty​

Author(s): Lorrayne Porciuncula and Bertrand de La Chapelle

Published on: March 31, 2021

On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the Secretariat of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network released a new Report  “We Need to Talk About Data: Framing the Debate Around the Free Flow of Data and Data Sovereignty”.

The Report presents concerns and perspectives around the current use of the concepts “Free Flow of Data” and “Data Sovereignty” and offers key recommendations on how to move forward to foster a collaborative discussion on how to organize our common datasphere.

The Report launched on the occasion of the World Economic Forum Global Technology Governance Summit was presented during a Virtual Conference on Governance Innovation for Cross-border Data Flows, organized by the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network and the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry of Japan.

To develop the Report, I&JPN consulted actors from governments, the private sector, civil society, technical community international organizations, and academia in a survey of over 100 respondents, 4 roundtable discussions, and over 30 interviews.


The Report presents three key findings for moving forward.

  • First, we need a debate that is global, multi-stakeholder, across sectors.
  • Second, the discussion needs to be reframed to ensure that this complex and novel issue is addressed in a much more nuanced manner.
  • Third, the Report highlights the need to be innovative in the tools, frameworks and concepts we use to address the issue of data.


The Report is made possible by the support of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.



We need to promote a more sophisticated understanding of the issue of data in order to both harness its opportunities and address its challenges in a holistic manner. This report frames the debate in more nuanced terms and puts forth innovative approaches for moving forward - such as through the concept of the Datasphere.

Lorrayne Porciuncula

Executive Director, Datasphere Initiative, and Co-Author of the Report

How to organize the coexistence and interactions of billions of people and entities in the digital age is a civilizational challenge. Striving to achieve common objectives, such as maximizing well-being for all and defining the distribution of responsabilities among actors, should guide our efforts to collectively build an inclusive digital society.

Bertrand de La Chapelle

Executive Director, Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, Chief Vision Officer, Datasphere Initiative, and Co-Author of the Report

One of the report's findings that we find particularly salient is that people have different understandings of what data sovereignty or the free flow of data means. They put them oftentimes in opposition, with one another and, what is needed is a common vocabulary, in order to work together towards a common objective.

Sasha Rubel

Programme Specialist, Digital Innovation and Transformation UNESCO

One thing I really wanted to draw out of the report is this wonderful idea of future proofing and in that respect it's important to move beyond how data is being used, right there, and right now.

Anne Flanagan

Data Policy & Governance Lead World Economic Forum

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