Servers and Sovereignty: Explaining the Rise of Data Localization Laws

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As lives around the world become increasingly digital, governments are seeking new ways to control and commercialize the new wealth of available information. One manifestation of these efforts are data localization laws, which require that data be stored on servers within national borders. While over thirty countries around the world enforce data localization policies of some form, research indicates that data localization often does not achieve its stated objectives to facilitate economic growth, protect against foreign surveillance and make data more secure. Given the scholarship that suggests data localization does not fulfill these economic and security motives, why are states still using territory as a means of dictating where information should physically be located? This thesis presents a unique analysis of the motivations behind data localization, with a focus on democracies. I argue that a threat to state sovereignty, provoked by foreign ownership over data, motivates states to consider data localization. However, these laws are more likely to pass in states seeking to consolidate domestic power. Analysis of policies in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Canada provide support for this theory. The membership of domestic policymaking bodies and the economic influence of a state are two other notable factors identified in the research that can affect the success of proposals to localize data. Overall, this research suggests that while data localization has serious implications for the international economy and human rights, anti-data localization efforts need to better account for the sovereignty concerns of states considering these policies.


Type of resource text
Date created May 20, 2019


Author Mueller-Hsia, Kaylana
Advisor Grotto, Andrew
Advisor Cohen, David


Subject Center for International Security and Cooperation
Subject cyber
Subject data
Subject human rights
Subject internet policy
Subject international relations
Genre Thesis

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User agrees that, where applicable, content will not be used to identify or to otherwise infringe the privacy or confidentiality rights of individuals. Content distributed via the Stanford Digital Repository may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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Mueller-Hsia, Kaylana. (2019). Servers and Sovereignty: Explaining the Rise of Data Localization Laws. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at:


Stanford University, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Interschool Honors Program in International Security Studies, Theses

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