The debate about data retention has made many people aware of the topic of IT security. The call for laws surrounding digital sovereignty grows. However, how much digital sovereignty is possible, and what is useful? What opportunities arise from a legal basis in digital sovereignty?

The Meaning of Digital Sovereignty 

Digital sovereignty means that internet users can freely and independently decide which data can be gathered, distributed, used and saved about them. We use digital infrastructure, services and data sources both on the job and at home. Just think of the thermostat, which knows what temperature the living room should be and sets it automatically whilst constantly taking in data. We’ve been reading newspapers on our tablets for quite some time and many literary works are also available online.

Data as a Source of Profit Maximisation 

Still, we often forget that every time we use a free digital service, we leave a data trail behind. We do not know how the data – our data – is being used. Are we transforming ourselves from users and customers of digital providers to suppliers for their business models? Even chancellor Angela Merkel mentioned that data is the commodity of the 21st century. It is a central element for new business concepts and the future of production. For companies, it is a way to optimise their products and make profit. But whilst it is great for the economy, the catch is there is no transparency in this area. Users are insufficiently informed which data is being collected and what happens with it. They cannot control their own data.

Heiko Maas Demands a Basic Digital Rights Charta

Data is part of our identity and therefore has to be protected, particularly within the context of our personal rights. Some politicians have seen the importance of this already. In December 2015, through Germen newspaper Die Zeit, the German Minister of Justice Heiko Maas demanded a Basic Digital Rights Charter which would also include digital sovereignty. This is important because the big players in the digital world have secured themselves a great amount of flexibility concerning the processing of data, and have taken away control from the user by virtually forcing them to accept their terms of use. However, the data is not only of use to online corporations, but also intelligence agencies and hackers can benefit from the data. Thereby the threat of hacking is also growing for companies.

Digital Sovereignty as an Opportunity for the German Economy

That is why it is important to start a dialogue because digital sovereignty offers not only security for the citizens but also opportunities for the German and the European economy. These lag behind in many parts of the digitalisation.
It is essential that players are enabled to make conscious decisions about the use of their data. In order to achieve this, society as a whole must work towards this goal. Moreover, new areas are established, not only in IT security but also in other vital technology areas in the German economy. The political debate about digital sovereignty is dominated by economic measures. The question of measures for the security of the citizen usually take place in research.

As a result, it is necessary that in a digitally sovereign state, that politics allows the owners of IT devices to have the sole control over it. The technical possibilities are available in Germany, which entails great potential for our economy. In addition, a legally binding and high standard of data security could make Germany an attractive business site. By interacting with a technologically supported and responsible handling of data volume, we could assert ourselves internationally over the big internet corporations.
Digital sovereignty has innovative potential, which must extend primarily to economic as well as political aims. It is also important to not only control the key technologies and distribute IT-forensic information about IT security incidents but also recognise and categorise technological trends in order to develop them further.

This demand leads to certain goals which should be reached in the future: 

  • we have to lead the digitalisation into social channels
  • it is necessary to expand data security technology and IT security technology
  • we should use the opportunity to connect digitalisation on an individual, economic and social level through social innovation

We have the chance to turn the trademark “Made in Germany” into a synonym for responsible and high quality technology which stands the test of time – in contrast to the internet giants.