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During the 17th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) last year, digital sovereignty turned out to be the subject of some of the most heated debates among stakeholders in the ecosystem. This is because the quest for digital sovereignty has become a shared goal among companies, public authority stakeholders, and, more recently, Internet users, citizens, and consumers.
While digital human rights defenders have largely focused on issues such as encryption, disinformation, internet shutdowns, and regulations, there might be a need to raise concerns about digital sovereignty as an issue. Governments around the globe have set out to propose and implement policies to give them more authority over how certain parts of the Internet and online services work within their borders. This trend is increasingly tied to the term "digital sovereignty," also known as "cyber sovereignty," "tech sovereignty," or "Internet sovereignty." How the Internet works and how useful it is to its users could be affected by who has control over its borderless nature.
During the 17th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) last year, digital sovereignty turned out to be the subject of some of the most heated debates among stakeholders in the ecosystem. This is because companies, public authorities, and, more recently, Internet users, citizens, and consumers all want the same thing: digital sovereignty.
At the 2014 consultations of the French National Digital Council, several proposals emphasized the critical role played by strong digital sovereignty in national sovereignty. Faced with the ever-growing economic power of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), economic dependence and significant value transfer are creating an imbalance that requires public authorities and economic operators to use regulatory tools that are compatible with free movement and freedom, which are inseparable from our online activities.
With specific countries and tech giants gaining significant control over worldwide data hosting, more and more countries have had a hard time controlling and regulating the data created, shared, and consumed by their constituents. This has given different groups a reason to work on plans to protect data locally and lessen their reliance on solutions from outside the country. They hope to boost local digital economies and protect national security.
Whereas the above proponents are valid in one way, there is an increasing concern about the impact of these measures on Internet users. Digital sovereignty gives governments control of the flow of data in and out of their borders, meaning government agencies can collect and access sensitive data about their citizens much more easily, which would threaten privacy and freedom of expression, among other human rights. Therefore, the rise in trends should worry digital human rights defenders.
Since digital sovereignty is a new idea, it is important to clear up any confusion about it, explain why governments have become more interested in it in recent years, and show how it could affect different groups to protect the rights of users.
Strong data legislation is important for ensuring safeguards against government surveillance and violations of users' rights. Instead of just giving the government more power over the private sector, laws should be mostly about respecting and protecting privacy.
In conclusion, these trends call for more collaboration between human rights defenders, policymakers, technology companies, and civil society to set the right course.