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What is the concept of technological sovereignty?

Technology shapes economies, societies, and individual lives. However, the dominance of a few global tech giants and the reliance on foreign technology has raised concerns about data privacy, security, and dependence.  


Technological sovereignty aims to address these issues by advocating for local control, ownership, and development of technological systems. According to Edler et al. (2020), technology sovereignty refers to a government’s ability to provide critical technologies necessary for their welfare, competitiveness, and autonomy.  


Understanding Technological Sovereignty 

Technology sovereignty emphasises the combination of secure access to technology and relevant components through domestic capabilities and external networks. This means that today’s nation-states and supranational unions should have reliable access to critical technologies through their capabilities or partnerships with other economic regions. The reliability of external relations can be achieved through various means, ranging from strong commitments to a joint legal and institutional framework, congruence of political interests and values, to structural interdependence. 


Tech sovereignty is essential for several reasons.  

  • It allows nations to safeguard their economic and political autonomy.  
  • It reduces the reliance on foreign technologies, and countries can mitigate the risks of being subject to external control or influence.   
  • It enables governments to address their citizens’ specific needs and priorities, fostering innovation, economic growth, and social development. 

Principles of Technological Sovereignty 

Technological sovereignty is based on principles that guide nations in asserting control over their technologies, data, and digital infrastructure. These principles ensure that countries can shape their technological landscapes, protect their interests, and foster innovation while maintaining autonomy. Let’s explore the fundamental principles of technological sovereignty: 


Government Policies  

Governments are crucial in promoting technological sovereignty through well-crafted policies and regulations. They need to establish frameworks that encourage the development of domestic technological capabilities, protect data privacy, and ensure cybersecurity. Governments should also foster collaboration between academia, industry, and civil society to build robust digital ecosystems that promote innovation and self-reliance. 


Ensuring Data Privacy and Security 

Data privacy and security are integral aspects of technological sovereignty. Governments must enact legislation that safeguards personal data and protects it from unauthorised access or misuse. Implementing stringent cybersecurity measures and promoting encryption technologies can further enhance data protection. Additionally, fostering transparency and accountability in data handling practices is essential to build trust among citizens. 


Building Domestic Technological Capacities 

To achieve technological sovereignty, countries need to invest in building their domestic technological capacities. This includes supporting research and development, nurturing local talent, and creating an environment conducive to innovation. Developing indigenous technologies can reduce dependence on foreign vendors and enable countries to tailor solutions to their needs. 


Open-Source Software  

Open-source software plays a vital role in promoting technological sovereignty. It offers transparency, customisation, and the freedom to modify and redistribute software, reducing dependence on proprietary technologies. Governments can encourage using open-source software in public administration, education, and critical infrastructure, promoting collaboration and knowledge sharing. 


Balancing Globalisation  

Technological sovereignty should not necessarily be viewed as an isolationist approach but as a way to balance globalisation and national interests. Engaging in international cooperation and exchanging knowledge is essential while safeguarding national security and economic well-being. Countries can collaborate on technology standards, share best practices, and collectively address global challenges, ensuring a fair and inclusive digital future. 


Collaborative Approaches  

Collaboration among nations, particularly those with similar values and interests, can strengthen technological sovereignty. Countries can form alliances and partnerships to develop and share technology, pool resources, and collectively negotiate with tech giants. Collaborative approaches can enhance the bargaining power of smaller nations and foster innovation through shared expertise and knowledge transfer. 


Ethical Considerations  

Ethical considerations are integral to technological sovereignty. Governments need to ensure that technologies are developed and deployed in a manner that respects human rights, promotes inclusivity, and avoids discrimination. Ethical frameworks and guidelines should be established to address emerging challenges such as artificial intelligence, algorithmic bias, and the ethical use of personal data. 


Empowering Users and Citizens 

Technological sovereignty should empower users and citizens by giving them control over their digital identities and enhancing their digital literacy. Governments should prioritise digital skills training programs, promote user-friendly technologies, and encourage citizen participation in decision-making processes related to technology deployment and governance. 


The Evolving Landscape of Technological Sovereignty 

The landscape of technological sovereignty is evolving to address new challenges and opportunities the digital age presents. 

The Evolving Landscape of Technological Sovereignty


Decentralised Technologies and Blockchain 

Decentralised technologies like blockchain hold immense potential to advance technological sovereignty. Blockchain technology enables secure, transparent, and decentralised systems, allowing individuals and communities to control their data and transactions. It can be applied to various domains, including supply chain management, digital identity, and decentralised finance, empowering users and reducing dependence on centralised authorities. 


Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning 

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are transforming various sectors and have implications for technological sovereignty. The 2021 Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act) marks a significant milestone as the first regulatory framework for AI technologies worldwide. It introduces a risk-assessment framework for companies seeking access to the European market with their AI products. While the introduction of regulations has been welcomed by companies, concerns remain regarding the potential impact on innovation and the interpretation of evaluation criteria. 


Internet of Things (IoT) and Edge Computing 

The proliferation of IoT devices and the advent of edge computing present both opportunities and challenges for technological sovereignty. The IoT connects billions of devices, generating vast amounts of data. Tech sovereignty necessitates control over data generated within a country’s borders, ensuring privacy, security, and the ability to harness the economic potential of IoT data. Edge computing brings computation closer to the data source and offers a way to process and analyse data locally, reducing reliance on centralised cloud infrastructure. 


Data Localisation and Sovereign Clouds 

Data localisation, the practice of storing data within national borders, is gaining traction as a means to assert technological sovereignty. Many countries enact data protection regulations requiring personal data to be stored locally. Sovereign clouds, or domestic cloud infrastructures, provide an alternative to global cloud service providers, enabling nations greater control over their data and digital infrastructure. Data localisation and sovereign clouds enhance data privacy, promote local innovation, and mitigate risks associated with cross-border data transfers. 


Cybersecurity and Privacy Enhancements 

Technological sovereignty requires robust cybersecurity and privacy measures to protect critical infrastructure, systems, and personal data. Future trends in technological sovereignty will see increased investments in cybersecurity capabilities, including advanced threat detection, incident response, and secure communication networks. Privacy-enhancing technologies, such as secure multi-party computation and homomorphic encryption, will preserve individual privacy rights while enabling data analysis and collaboration. 


To Wrap Up 

It is imperative for governments, industry leaders, innovative businesses, researchers, and citizens to collaborate and work towards advancing technological sovereignty. This requires fostering international cooperation, sharing best practices, and collectively addressing global challenges. We can build a future where technology serves people’s best interests by empowering users and citizens, enhancing digital literacy, and promoting inclusive decision-making processes. 


In conclusion, technological sovereignty is a fundamental concept allowing countries to shape their digital landscape, protect citizens, and foster innovation. By embracing technological sovereignty and taking decisive actions, we can create a digital landscape that respects privacy, ensures security, and empowers individuals. Let’s start supporting technological sovereignty and build a future where technology serves as a force for good.