Preventing Data Colonialism without resorting to protectionism – The European strategy

Digital humanism deals with the complex relationship between man and machine. It acknowledges the potential of Informatics and IT. At the same time, it points to related apparent threats such as privacy violations, ethical concerns with AI, automation, and loss of jobs, and the ongoing monopolization on the Web. The DIGHUM lectures seeks to discuss the different aspects of Digital Humanism.

This panel builds on prior Dighum panels including the one entitled “Digital Sovereignty” about three months ago. The particular focus of this one is on data and the related threats and opportunities. The threat of “data colonialism” is meant to describe a possible situation where there is unbridled access (extraction) and processing/exploitation of data of European citizens and businesses by non-European companies and, potentially via these, foreign powers.

Simply as an illustration, today the data of virtually all European citizens and companies that use cloud services are accessible by non-European cloud service providers to which their countries of origin have potential access (the US via the recent Cloud Act and China via … fiat). The trap on the other side is to ring-fence such data within Member State or EU boundaries thus severely limiting their value to anybody.

In her keynote address on Feb 4th at the Digital Masters 2021, EC President Ursula Von der Leyen said: “In Europe we are sitting on a gold mine of machine generated data (value estimated at 1.5 trillion) which remains largely unexploited due primarily to the absence of clear rules for how a company can access, buy or sell such data across EU Member State borders.

It is in this context that a number of European initiatives have been deigned so as to constitute a coherent strategy. To itemize:

The GAIA-X consortium aims, in the context of a broader effort, to lead to the creation of a European cloud characterized by portability, interoperability and security. Non-European cloud providers participate as well.

The EC will launch the European Alliance for Industrial Data and Cloud aiming at a European Federated Cloud.

On the regulatory front, we have:

DSA that aims to define the responsibilities of all digital players DMA that aims to set rules for gatekeepers so that there is an online world accessible to all with a single, clear set of rules. European Data Governance Act proposed last November with the aim to strengthen data sharing mechanisms across Europe.

And last and certainly not least, the coming Data Act, which aims to arbitrate in trusted fashion how are the resulting benefits shared. Together with the Horizon research instruments and the investment instruments foreseen for the creation of European dedicated data spaces (e.g. for Health) all the above comprise a complex arsenal which the panel has the knowledge and experience to help us understand better. The key question, of course, is how can all these initiatives come together to form a coherent and effective strategy and with what expected “timeline of impact”.

Furthermore, as data underpins AI and practically all major coming digital technology advances, it is the aforementioned impact and its timeline that will be crucial for the achievement and maintenance of European Digital Sovereignty in the emerging geopolitical context.

PanelistsPilar del Castillio (European Parliament), Lokke Moerel (Tilburg University, The Netherlands), Yvo Volman (European Commission)

ModeratorGeorge Metakides (President of Digital Enlightenment Forum)

To access the Zoom conference, click here (Password: 0dzqxqiy). All talks will also be streamed and recorded on the Digital Humanism YouTube channel.