How to Win the Battle Over Data

The United States Dithers While Authoritarians Seize the Day

A data center in Lulea, Sweden David Levene / eye vine / Redux

In recent years, a number of authoritarian governments have begun taking data very seriously. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping believe that the twenty-first century belongs to nations that control communications platforms, suppress independent media, and dominate the development of data-driven technologies such as artificial intelligence. These regimes cordon off their domestic Internet space and shut off their citizens from global information flows, while undermining rival countries through disinformation campaigns and hacking. Authoritarian governments try to steal the intellectual property and databases of foreign organizations, but lock foreign firms out of their own data-rich sectors.

The United States has yet to show up to this information fight. U.S. cyberstrategists prioritize defending physical infrastructure—routers, servers, and endpoint devices such as laptops and smartphones—but consistently underestimate the economic and political significance of the information carried on that infrastructure. The U.S. private sector, which rarely acts

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