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UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

e-Topia: China, India and Biometric Borders

Alternative title: e-Topia: Kina, India og biometriske grenser

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

The project 'e-Topia: China, India and biometric borders' is a collaboration between researchers from Norway (Institute for Peace Research), China (Hezhou University, Digital Asia Hub) and India (Omeo Kumar Das Institute for Social Change and Development, Center for Internet and Society), where we research the digitalisation of India and China and how this affects technological development worldwide. The development of digital services and web-based solutions is revolutionizing both India and China, and the COVID-19 pandemic has helped accelerate the digitalisation of the world's two most populous countries, especially within public health, welfare and social security. The pandemic has also highlighted the significance of the development of the Internet of Things in Asia for technological development across the world. In China, we are investigating how the authorities attempt to regulate large technology companies and prevent the largest companies from buying up competitors. The purpose is to give more companies a chance to survive while protecting the interests of consumers as well as the stability of the country's overall financial system. In November 2020, the State Administration of Market Regulation issued a new draft law to prevent large companies such as Alibaba, and Meituan from completely dominating the e-commerce as well as social media, smart technology and payment systems markets. At the same time, the authorities have introduced new regulations to reduce debt, making it more difficult for the Chinese to take out loans they are unable to service. However, data privacy breaches and arbitrary data collection continues unabated. In India, we have closely followed the development of new health-related technology that combines digital identity, geo-location and COVID-19 tracking on mobile apps, and systematic registration of health-related data such as vaccination status and test results. We have employed a doctoral researcher who is studying the development of the Indian biometric identification system (Aadhaar) with a focus on the state of Assam, where the collection of biometric data such as iris scans and fingerprints enables authorities to deny those who fail to qualify for citizenship access to public services. We have also examined the nationwide Indian mobile app for tracking and mapping the spread of COVID-19, which is now integrated into the COVID-19 Vaccine Intelligence Network (Co-WIN), a digital platform for managing COVID-19 vaccination. This is also linked to the National Health Stack database, where detailed information on test results and vaccination status is systematically recorded for the first time. Co-Win is a centralised computer system that covers all of India, but in some Indian states, local systems are also being developed. The e-Topia project examines how the various databases, networks and apps function as elements in a huge monitoring and service delivery system, and how the bewildering technical architecture affects everyday life in India.

"e-Topia" refers to the place of the digital in visions of the future. The e-Topia project studies the digital as political, examining how India and China - the two most populous countries in the world - harness "smart" technologies to create new economic opportunities, more efficient governance, and more reliable and transparent welfare provision. The project examines policymaking on biometrics, e-governance, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cyber sovereignty in India and China. It also investigates new forms of digital and cyber in/security due to increasing reliance on public-private partnerships, corporate software providers and data storage and processing faciltities, and tensions between the need for global standards and cyber sovereignty concerns. The project highlights the potential of biometric data registration to be coupled with ID scanning across sovereign territories, conflating border control, surveillance and digital governance. Travel between India and China is on the rise, although their high-altitude border remains unresolved. As the Asian contribution to the global smart technology market continues to grow, the relationship between India and China is increasingly dependent on the compatibility of their digitalization efforts. A key contribution of e-Topia is to study new forms of cyber-governance and its employment in the delivery of services, surveillance and border control in both the Asian giants, examining the trade-offs of e-governance solutions such as vulnerability to digital crime, ethnic profiling, monitoring, surveillance, and loss of privacy. With the introduction of biometric data registration and digital identification programs in a growing number of countries across the world, concerns about cyber insecurity and digital vulnerability are mounting. e-Topia will generate new knowledge on the e-governance and IoT strategies of India and China, their digital relations, and their common "e-Topian" dreams.

Funding scheme:

UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser