Digital Sovereignty in a Borderless Virtual World

The concept of 'Sovereignty' breeds a notion of independence, along with a supreme and somehow unrestricted power of a state or government within its borders. It relays the idea of an entity's freedom to make decisions for its own benefit. Similarly, Digital Sovereignty is the ability or power – naturally or lawfully – granted to an entity to make beneficial decisions regarding its digital assets. According to Techopedia, "Digital sovereignty is a key idea in the internet age — the idea that parties must have sovereignty over their own digital data." It can be applied toward nations or individually — basically, digital sovereignty involves consideration of how data and digital assets are treated.

In its briefing on Digital Sovereignty for Europe, The European Union (EU) has expressed a growing concern that its Member States, businesses, and citizens are slowly losing control over their data, over their dexterity for innovation, and over their capacity to shape and enforce legislation in the digital environment. This legislation should address issues related to cybersecurity and protection of personal data, copyright, audio-visual media, telecoms, online-platforms, e-commerce, big data, as well as e-government and standardization. As of July 1st, 2020, EU Council Presidency has been led by Germany, which shares the belief that Europe as a whole must achieve digital sovereignty to be autonomous and able to handle global issues such as terrorism, human trafficking, or pandemics. Moreso, the Germans advocate for European citizens and entities to have control over their data. However, given that digital sovereignty should apply to a broad range of sectors touched by digitalization, how do we ensure safe and secure treatment of information in a borderless virtual world?

Speaking with The Economist in an interview last November, French president - Emmanuel Macron, expressed concern over European reliance on American tech platforms. Briefing: America's war on Huawei near its end game.

With data gradually becoming a matter of geoeconomics and geopolitics, governments are battling to control this complex data ecosystem. Enabling its growing potential while managing its risks has equally become an economic issue that also relates to national security, and politics according to Elisabetha Zaccaria – Founder and Chairman of Secure Chorus. In Europe, the ongoing controversy about the United States and China's 5G telecommunication competition cannot be completely separated from legal considerations and political sentiments. The pursuit of greater technological independence and EU's aspirations for digital sovereignty, reflect the underlying feeling of being caught in a digital 'cold war' between the US and China. Speaking with The Economist in an interview last November, French President - Emmanuel Macron, expressed concern over European reliance on American tech platforms. He referred to the development of 5g as “a sovereign matter” and went on to highlight that “some elements [of the 5g network] must only be European.” That in itself did not dismiss Huawei's potential role, but several developments thereafter appear to have pushed the continent further towards that direction. – Briefing: America's war on Huawei near its end game.

On an individual level, it is also important to determine where exactly the rights and responsibilities lie with regard to personal data. Users' digital sovereignty reflects a desire to regain control over personal information that has been blindly surrendered to companies. By agreeing to companies' terms and conditions, without thoroughly reading the contracts, the majority of people have given up power over their personal data. Although companies are legally authorized to utilize users' personal information after signed agreements, they are morally responsible to employ this acquired data in the most ethical way possible.

On the one hand, the virtual world could provide information vital to the fight against cyber-criminality and existing cyber-wars between nations. On the other hand, there is a need to safeguard users' rights to privacy and digital sovereignty over personal data. With both ends of the argument bearing similar importance, the right balance for a safer, but more innovative digital environment is yet to be found.

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