RIA Makes Public Interest Submission to DCDT on SA’s Proposed National Data and Cloud Policy

Research ICT Africa

Research ICT Africa (RIA) submitted written comments in response to South Africa’s Proposed National Data and Cloud Policy, published by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies in the Government Gazette in April 2021. This submission was made to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), which set a deadline of 1 June 2021 for public comments.

RIA’s submission was made in the public interest to help ensure that the intensifying global processes of digitalisation and datafication can be harnessed to contribute to the national project of reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality and ensuring that the benefits of advanced technologies and opportunities to innovate, improve lives and livelihoods are more evenly spread in South Africa.

While RIA’s submission dealt extensively and in-depth with the Proposed National Data and Cloud Policy, we highlighted eight overarching concerns. To read our full submission download the document below.

General Comments and Concerns

  • Framing data as infrastructure seems to have led to the questionable claim that data can be owned in the legal sense and that realising value from data is achieved through excludability, rather than through processing and transfer.
    • The Policy should frame data as creating value through real timedata flows and confluence rather than as static, exclusively controlled databases.
  • There are three problematic assumptions that underlie the protectionist approaches to data solutions: the first, as mentioned it above, is a belief that because data is valuable in the digital economy its value is best extracted from seeking excludability; the second, is that data infrastructure and data needs can be conflated; and the third is that personal data necessities align with all data necessities.
    • The Policy should start with a more detailed consideration of data, data types and data value, as informed by international discussions in the area.
  • While there are risks to cross border data flows, the proposed policy focuses on the risks rather than the opportunities in terms of data portability and as a result takes a protectionist approach.
    • The Policy should set out how opportunities to attract data hosting and data processing investments and data flows into South Africa, especially through the developing African Continental Free Trade Agreement as well as from the European Union and more strongly requiring data portability.
  • Data and cloud policy fall within the remit of the Minister and the Department. However the proposed policy is wide ranging and cross cutting raising concerns regarding the Departments capabilities to implement and enforce such a cross-cutting policy. Is this within the remit of the Department? Both the Information Regulator and the Competition Commission play key roles in the digital economy, coordination with them is vital.
    • The Policy should require both continual recognition – and coordination – with both the Competition Commission and Information Regulator of South Africa.
  • Given the immense centrality of skills and capacity in reaping digital dividends, a larger focus should be placed on considering the enabling environment necessary for building such skills within the policy, but also – given the public sector data focus – enhancing the public sector capacities in data skills, inclusive of personal data protection.
    • The Policy’s approach to data skills should reflect existing digital inequalities compounded by the new digital skills divide owed to a shortage in data science and analytics. In particular the Policy should commit to increase funding for data intensive research in universities to develop not only skills but the capacity to generate more skills.
  • There is a significant underrepresentation of the government’s efforts to pursue data justice, through cross-sectoral collaboration (civil society, intergovernmental, international), ensuring ethical data practice and equitable use/access to data.
    • The Policy should detail how the Advisory Council for Data Practices could operate as a possible form of multi-stakeholder participation within data governance, informed by social and economic perspectives and expertise.
  • The Open Data imperatives articulated in the Policy are incredibly important as they address a significant gap in policy frameworks and extend international commitments made under the Open Government Partnership.
    • The National Open Data Strategy should be the first priority.
  • The proposed policy makes important points: the need to support local innovation communities; the need for public data practices and capacities to be a priority is vital; and the central role that open data ecosystems (and underlying data structure norms) play in deriving digital benefits, however these insights are not well reflected in the policy recommendations. The policy should take into account how data localisation, and the practical efforts that would be required for data localisation, would directly lead to increased burdens on local innovation 8 of 26 Research ICT Africa submission on Proposed National Data and Cloud Policy communities.
    • The Policy should make recommendations how innovation communities may be fostered. The policy should also specifically engage with possibilities for regulatory sandboxes on different data issues that could facilitate local development.

Download the complete submission below. You might also be interested in watching a webinar hosted by RIA in which a panel of experts discussed the implications of South Africa’s Proposed National Data and Cloud Policy.