Data Sovereignty

Data sovereignty is a vague concept in the discourse on digital sovereignty and is used to express various aspects of the individual or social ability to deal with Big Data in a self-determined way. The mainstream claim is that current regulatory framework, political agendas and individual competencies are not sufficiently adapted to the new requirements of big data processing. The concept of data sovereignty is coined differently by various actors. As opposed to the concept of “informational self-determination” in German law, it emphasizes the possibility of data collection and processing to a greater extent; it is also referred to by some as a “lobby term”. The problems discussed in connection with data sovereignty, however, go far beyond data availability. The discourse is uneven and complex, and there are numerous overlaps with other topics, such as the legal framework and data security.

» main subjects:

Laws and data privacy

Legal issues are the most controversial aspect of the data sovereignty debate. In this context, data sovereignty often regards data as a collective good rather than an individual property. This would also result in resolving the contradictions between the principles of current data protection (data economy, consent requirements and appropriation) and the requirements of mass data analysis (data wealth, automatic pattern recognition without an explicit goal and recontextualization) in favor of the latter. However, users of digital technologies should also be able to make informed and self-determined decisions about what happens to their data. This would not only require transparency of all related processes, but also the possibility of imposing restrictions and making choices in the data analysis process. However, data protection specialists fear the loss of informational self-determination enshrined in the data protection law.

Political Strategy

In political discourse, the term data sovereignty is used to describe the desired state of independence from foreign companies that are processing data. Closely linked to this is the goal of attaining an international leading position in the development of artificial intelligence and the strengthening of data economy. Within the framework of a national AI strategy, German Federal Government promotes research and innovation and also further develops the digital infrastructure. German companies that store and process data as well as research institutions hope politics will remove the regulatory hurdles on the collection and analysis of data. They require technically and legally secure repositories and exchange and processing platforms for high-quality datasets.

Digital competence

Few specialists out there have the expertise on how the data processing exactly works . There are not enough data scientists to meet the ambitions of the German data-driven economy. In addition, technology users also need to understand data processing mechanisms in order to make informed decisions about what data they allow to be stored and processed by entities they interact with. Digital technologies either overburden some users or these technologies simply remain inaccessible to them due to excessive complexity and limited usability. In order to achieve data sovereignty in the sense of digital literacy, the lead in big data development must be made up: not only in the areas of education, inclusion and usability, but also in the sense of social reflection.

We present the recent challenges and trends of this topic as well as the most important initiatives and institutes. Our collection of related sources helps to delve further into the topic.

Selected institutions and initiatives
  • International Data Spaces (IDS) – A virtual database that supports the secured exchange of data based on standards. As a „Network of Trusted Data” the IDS is a model of infrastructure based on the Privacy-by-Design approach for the sovereign data exchange. Project supported by the BMBF.
  • Weizenbaum-Institute for the Networked Society – The institute explores the current changes in all aspects of society occurring in response to digitalization. Their objectives are to develop a comprehensive understanding of these changes based on rigorous academic analysis and to offer informed strategies to address them at a political and economic level. The topic of digital sovereignty is closely examined in the research group “Knowledge, Education and Social Inequality”.
  • Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) – HIIG is the first German institute that focuses on the relationship between the Internet and society. It researchers the development of digital technologies from a societal perspective. The concept of data sovereignty is explored in the research programme “Governance of Data-driven Innovation and Cyber Security”.
  • Digital Society Institute (DSI) – DSI supports the dialogue between society, politics and business sectors on digitalization processes based on the latest research findings. The institute focuses also on development of disruptive cyber technologies. The topic of data sovereignty is debated in the framework of focus seminars.
Related sources

Data sovereignty

Digital sovereignty