June 28, 2022

Toward Digital Solidarity

The coronavirus crisis laid bare governments' dependence on actors beyond their control for vaccines, medical equipment, microchips, and other essential goods. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbated these concerns due to Europe’s heavy reliance on Russian energy. In turn, the pandemic and Russia’s war have helped accelerate many countries’ growing embrace of a form of technological self-sufficiency known as digital sovereignty. Rather than shifting to closed technological ecosystems, policymakers have the opportunity to move toward what could be called digital solidarity, a new policy framework for enhancing economic progress, national security, and other societal interests among open, democratic, and rule-bound societies.

The concept of digital sovereignty started to take root in the 2000s and spread quickly in digital policymaking and business circles over the next several years. Though it is more a malleable political slogan than a policy strategy, digital sovereignty’s meaning can be derived from the concerns expressed by its proponents. They assert the belief that digital technology shapes in fundamental ways an ever-increasing number of significant political, economic, military, and societal trends and outcomes. Therefore, they argue, controlling such technology is critical to defending and promoting the national interest.

The goal of digital solidarity is to enable technological cooperation and interaction that advance collective national interests.

Digital sovereignty has been a rallying cry for and driver of various industrial policy initiatives and technology regulations in the European Union, India, Australia, Canada, and other democratic societies. The Chinese and Russian governments have also used digital sovereignty and similar terms like cyber sovereignty, in their case to argue for and establish barriers between their domestic digital environments and the outside world and to promote abroad internet governance models designed to create closed and restricted ecosystems.

In contrast, digital solidarity is an alternative path to achieving technological self-determination through partnerships and alliances among open, democratic, and rule-bound societies. The goal of digital solidarity is to enable technological cooperation and interaction that advance collective national interests. Its implementation also ensures competition among technology providers to help safeguard any participating country from being locked into a dependent technology relationship with any other nation. Though some European countries have nominally supported this alternative path in public statements, recent events in France and elsewhere in the EU suggest that the direction of travel of many democratic societies’ technological self-determination may veer to a more closed and ultimately unsuccessful ecosystem.

Read the full article from Lawfare.

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