The people, not governments, should exercise digital sovereignty

John Thornhill at the Financial Times: “European politicians who have been complaining recently about the loss of “digital sovereignty” to US technology companies are like children grumbling in the back of a car about where they are heading. …

Sovereign governments used to wield exclusive power over validating identity, running critical infrastructure, regulating information flows and creating money. Several of those functions are being usurped by the latest tech.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, recently told The Economist that Europe had inadvertently abandoned the “grammar” of sovereignty by allowing private companies, rather than public interest, to decide on digital infrastructure. In 10 years’ time, he feared, Europe would no longer be able to guarantee the soundness of its cyber infrastructure or control its citizens’ and companies’ data.

The instinctive response of many European politicians is to invest in grand, state-led projects and to regulate the life out of Big Tech. A recent proposal to launch a European cloud computing company, called Gaia-X, reflects the same impulse that lay behind the creation of Quaero, the Franco-German search engine set up in 2008 to challenge Google. That you have to Google “Quaero” rather than Quaero “Quaero” tells you how that fared. The risk of ill-designed regulation is that it can stifle innovation and strengthen the grip of dominant companies.

Rather than just trying to shore up the diminishing sovereignty of European governments and prop up obsolete national industrial champions, leaders may do better to reshape the rules of the data economy to empower users and stimulate a new wave of innovation. True sovereignty, after all, lies in the hands of the people. To this end, Europe should encourage greater efforts to “re-decentralise the web”, as computer scientists say, to accelerate the development of the next generation internet. The principle of privacy by design should be enshrined in the next batch of regulations, following the EU’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation, and written into all public procurement contracts. …(More).