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Starlink seen as no threat to local data sovereignty

By , ITWeb Africa Contributor
27 Oct 2023
Andrew Cruise, MD, Routed.
Andrew Cruise, MD, Routed.

Low-Earth orbit satellite communications player Starlink does not threaten local data sovereignty across Africa, however the service does raise concerns over the security and integrity of data when in transit, warns industry expert.

In an exclusive interview with ITWeb Africa, Andrew Cruise, MD, Routed, advocated for internet service providers (ISPs), wireless internet service providers (WISPs) and satellite communications providers to be regulated by local communications bodies, to ensure secure flow and safe processing of data. 

With its services being increasingly launched across African nations, Cruise was responding to questions regarding the complexity of data sovereignty when the communications provider isn’t resident in the country.

"As a connectivity provider, Starlink enables the flow, or movement, of data. I don’t think this threatens sovereignty, but it does raise concerns over the security and integrity of data when in transit. As a start, data should be encrypted both at rest and in transit,” he said.

SpaceX, parent company of Starlink, provides off-grid high-bandwidth, high-speed, low-latency internet access to consumers in 45 countries using low-Earth orbit to deliver internet capable of supporting streaming, online gaming, video calls to users all over the world.

Cruise added that data sovereignty can be tricky to define. For him though, it means: “The ability to maintain legal control and authority of the data within a defined nation’s jurisdictional boundaries. Why is this important? The privacy and security of data within a nation’s boundaries and jurisdiction is paramount to national interest and security.”

He said any nation’s success is built upon the companies and people that resided and kept their data safe, pointing out this is critical to the nation’s growth and development.

Cruise commented on developing countries, mainly across Africa, that wish to have their own data sovereignty, but without investing significantly into infrastructure, such as datacentres.

“In my view, this should not be a discussion about whether nations require sovereignty regulations and policies, and how difficult this would be to achieve and support, because they already have them,” he said.

Cruise noted while the hyperscale cloud providers continue to invest in datacentres in South Africa, Sub-Saharan African countries will not collocate or host in the country, due to its sovereignty regulations around their data.

“And yes, I believe that this is driving new colocation infrastructure (datacentres) to be built in-country. I think this is unavoidable,” he said.

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