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Legal Implications of the Use of Big Data in the Transboundary Water Context

IWRA 2021 Online Conference One Water, One Health
Theme 5: How can science better inform public policy, governance and capacity building for water, food and health?
Author(s): Imad Antoine Ibrahim

Imad Antoine Ibrahim

Research Assistant Professor
Center for Law & Development, College of Law, Qatar University
gLAWcal - Global Law Initiative for Sustainable Development

Keyword(s): Big data, International water conventions, Transboundary water agreements, Game Theory, Flexibility mechanisms


(a) Purpose or objectives and status of study or research hypothesis
This article examines the potential legal implications of the adoption and implementation of transboundary water agreements and international water conventions as a result of the emergence of ‘big data’.

(b) Key issue(s) or problem(s) addressed
Water experts and professionals are concerned about encountering potential obstacles to the use of big data. These concerns are quite serious, given the existing legal vacuum in place at the international level regarding state use of digital technologies, such as big data, for improving transboundary water governance. This vacuum is the result of the adoption of international conventions and instruments prior to the emergence of digital technologies resulting in the absence of provisions addressing these same technologies. Moreover, the adoption of new agreements that take digital technologies into consideration requires a scientific understanding
lacking in many current decision-makers and international lawyers.

(c) Methodology or approach used
This article exhibits an attempt to understand the potential role international law may play in regulating the use of big data in natural resource management—in this case, shared water resources. Appropriate regulatory frameworks addressing big data are vital for lawyers, water resource managers, and researchers working on water governance. In particular, this article seeks to answer the following question: Are there legal implications for the use of big data in the transboundary water context?

(d) Results and conclusions derived from the project
It will highlight that such use is likely to become politicised given the potential gains and losses states may have to assume as a consequence of its use. After examining the different potential scenarios that may take place depending on each state’s position concerning the use of this digital technology in the transboundary water context, the article will analyse the scenario in which all parties decide to use big data, as this decision requires legal implementation. The author will then suggest ways in which the use of big data in the transboundary water context can be regulated within international water law and transboundary water agreements.
(e) Implications of the project relevant to selected conference theme, theory and/or practice This research will highlight how big data can inform public policy, governance and capacity building for the water sector in the transboundary context.

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