Professor Lawrence on Trade and Digital Tech in Weimar

December 10, 2018

Professor Jessica Lawrence    participated in a Workshop on ‘Digital Technologies in World Politics’ organized by the University of Erfurt in Weimar, Germany on 7-8 December 2018. The workshop brought together academics and practitioners from economics, technology, international relations, and political economy. 

Professor Lawrence contributed with a presentation on the intersections between trade law and digital technology, titled “Neoliberal Geographies: Jurisdiction, Data Localization, and the WTO.”

Her talk discussed the mismatch between traditional understandings of territorial jurisdiction and the practices of ‘footloose’ global capital that operates above and across national borders. As states struggle with the implications of this new regulatory geography, some have attempted to ‘pin down’ data by requiring that it be stored or otherwise processed within their territory, allowing them to impose controls for reasons of national security, taxation, and personal privacy. These ‘data localization’ rules have, however, created barriers to trade in services, and champions of economic liberalization have begun to use recent trade agreements to limit or prohibit states from imposing such requirements.

As Professor Lawrence argued: “The battle over where data is located and who should control it reflects a wider ideological struggle over how digital technology should be categorized and governed. Thinking of the digital economy in terms of embedded business activities taking place within states leads to very different legal and political conclusions than thinking of it in terms of dis-embedded, de-territorialized data flows that exist in the non-place of the global internet.”