On September 3, the Affiliation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) formally launched negotiations on the ASEAN Digital Economic system Framework Settlement (DEFA). DEFA goals to supply “a coherent, harmonized, collaborative, and rules-based strategy” to determine a “aggressive and inclusive regional digital financial system.” A high-quality DEFA is anticipated to double the worth of the ASEAN digital financial system, from $1 trillion to $2 trillion, by 2030.
DEFA builds on the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework, amongst different ASEAN coverage milestones, which acknowledges digital integration as a “crucial enabler” for ASEAN to compete extra successfully within the international financial system. A core side of DEFA, and ASEAN’s long-term dedication to digital integration, is the facilitation of seamless and safe knowledge flows throughout ASEAN member states.
A push for harmonization of knowledge regulatory frameworks couldn’t be extra well timed amidst the headwinds in international knowledge governance, the place distinctive fashions of knowledge regulation are rising. The potential bifurcation of the info governance regime, the place ASEAN member states are made to decide on amongst divergent – even competing – fashions of knowledge regulation, doesn’t bode nicely for ASEAN’s finish aim of fostering an ASEAN Financial Group.
ASEAN has an pressing activity at hand to beat the disparate knowledge regulatory frameworks throughout its member states. Fostering a coherent knowledge regulatory surroundings within the area is crucial to keep away from being susceptible to potential fragmentary pressures in international knowledge governance.
Uneven Knowledge Regulatory Frameworks Inside ASEAN
Regardless of ASEAN’s prioritization of digital integration in its coverage milestones, progress on knowledge regulation amongst ASEAN member states stays restricted and sluggish.
Devoted frameworks and plans on knowledge governance by ASEAN stay on the stage of broad rules and pointers. The ASEAN Framework on Private Knowledge Safety adopted in 2016 established a set of rules to information the event of private knowledge safety measures on the nationwide and regional stage. The ASEAN Framework on Digital Knowledge Governance that adopted in 2018 is non-binding and units out solely broad guiding rules for knowledge governance.
Not solely do knowledge regulatory frameworks throughout ASEAN member states reveal totally different preferences for knowledge governance, however the extent of harmonization of cross-border knowledge regulation with different buying and selling companions additionally varies significantly.
Some international locations have developed complete laws on restrictions of knowledge flows and others have targeted on knowledge safety and knowledge privateness legal guidelines. Indonesia and Vietnam have carried out knowledge localization legal guidelines which mandate the storage of knowledge generated regionally inside their territories. When it comes to knowledge safety and knowledge privateness legal guidelines, solely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand have enacted complete laws. Vietnam’s revised Legislation on Safety of Shoppers’ Rights, which incorporates new obligations for the safety of customers’ info, comes into impact in 2024.
The adoption of knowledge guidelines in free commerce agreements (FTAs), which serve to harmonize cross-border knowledge rules between signatories, are likewise extremely uneven throughout ASEAN member states. Some are shifting rapidly to ink digital financial system agreements and improve present FTAs to incorporate knowledge guidelines, whereas others have made solely restricted progress.
In comparison with the remainder of ASEAN, Singapore is signatory to an outsized variety of FTAs that embody data-related provisions or introduce novel ones. Primarily based on the variety of novel provisions launched in Singapore’s agreements, it stands out as one of many rule-makers in international knowledge governance.
Commitments to knowledge guidelines by different ASEAN member states are in any other case restricted, with data-related provisions largely absent of their FTAs. The place current, knowledge guidelines are weakly legalized or emphasize exceptions. Behind Singapore, Vietnam has probably the most commitments on knowledge regulation in its FTAs. This contains broad clauses on the upkeep of knowledge safety measures or legally binding provisions that guarantee knowledge safety in response to home legislation. Provisions that allow the switch of knowledge associated to monetary companies, laptop companies, and telecommunications are additionally encoded in Vietnamese agreements.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia additionally embody comparable provisions of their FTAs.
Nevertheless, a few of the most stringent and prevalent provisions throughout ASEAN member states’ FTAs pertain to exceptions. These exceptions retain a signatory’s proper to implement restrictions to guard private knowledge however obligations to make sure the free circulate of knowledge. Supplied these measures don’t represent a way of discrimination amongst signatories, the grounds for these exceptions embody however aren’t restricted to nationwide safety.
With participation in FTAs throughout regional states already various considerably, uneven progress in assembly the norms of knowledge governance additional widens the hole within the ranges of integration of ASEAN member states with the worldwide financial system.
Divergent knowledge regulatory frameworks throughout Southeast Asia jeopardize ASEAN’s aim to foster an built-in and aggressive regional digital financial system. It additionally will increase the vulnerability of the area to potential fragmentary pressures in international knowledge governance.
The Specter of Fragmentation
The totally different knowledge regulatory fashions of China, the European Union (EU), and the USA have the potential to translate into distinct regimes in international knowledge governance. As knowledge guidelines proliferate in FTAs, the systematic convergence of nations towards most popular fashions might result in the emergence of distinct regimes on the worldwide stage.
Already, the FTAs signed by China, EU, and the U.S. respectively are characterised by totally different priorities. China’s FTAs prioritize legally binding provisions on the safety of private knowledge and data in accordance with each home legislation and worldwide requirements. Comparable provisions within the EU’s and the USA’ FTAs are weakly binding.
As an alternative, EU and U.S. FTAs comprise extra provisions on the free switch or motion of knowledge. These provisions predominantly lengthen commitments within the monetary companies, telecommunications, or audiovisual chapters to associated knowledge or info. The place included within the digital commerce chapters, these provisions are express ensures that disallow restrictions on cross-border knowledge flows.
A Window of Alternative for ASEAN
With the DEFA negotiations set to conclude by 2025, the following two years are a window of alternative for ASEAN to understand its ambitions for digital integration and write its personal guidelines for knowledge governance.
For DEFA to be a “game-changer” for the bloc, ASEAN’s roadmap for digital integration must speed up the harmonizing of knowledge regulatory frameworks inside the area. Growing complete home legislations on knowledge points is a primary step to determine clear benchmarks and norms. This in flip will easy compatibility of knowledge regulatory frameworks throughout jurisdictions.
Because the world’s first region-wide digital financial system settlement, DEFA has the potential to set an instance for regulatory harmonization, particularly amongst economies at very totally different phases of digital integration. To the extent that the design of FTAs typically depends on the replication of present templates, by ascribing the principles for the area, DEFA is a platform for ASEAN to shift from being a rule-taker to a rule-maker in international commerce governance.