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Navigating the Terrain of Data Sovereignty
Thursday, 1st June 2023
Sara Buccino, consultant at The Lisbon Council asbl

In the current era, the digital landscape evolves more rapidly than ever. In this fast-paced technological context, data sovereignty has emerged as a critical consideration for individuals, organizations, and governments. As data becomes the cornerstone of modern economies and societies, ensuring control, protection, and ownership over this valuable asset is crucial. The concept of data sovereignty refers to the authority and control that a state or jurisdiction exerts over the data generated and collected within its borders. It embodies the fundamental principles that individuals, nations, and organizations should have the right to determine how their data is used, shared, and protected. Thus, data sovereignty enables nations to safeguard their economic interests, protect individual privacy rights, and maintain national security by asserting control over data flows within their jurisdiction. In an era where data has become a driving force behind decision-making, societal development, and economic growth, data sovereignty serves as a crucial pillar for shaping a digital landscape that respects privacy and upholds rights, empowering individuals, states, and organizations. 

Given the importance of the topic in the current geopolitical environment, this article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of data sovereignty, shedding light on its various dimensions, and exploring how it can be promoted and protected. The content of this article on data sovereignty aligns closely with the overall goal of the GLACIATION project. The GLACIATION project aims to explore and develop solutions for data governance and privacy in the context of cloud computing. By addressing the significance of data sovereignty and understanding the spectrum of EU policies and regulations, this article contributes to the project’s objective of advancing responsible and transparent data governance practices. 


Understanding Data Sovereignty 

Data ownership lies at the core of data sovereignty, encompassing the rights and responsibilities of individuals, organizations, and governments when it comes to data. Within our complex and rapidly evolving technological realm, internet users generate vast amounts of data through their online activities, transactions, and interactions with technology. Data ownership then grants individuals, organizations, and governments the right to determine how their data is used, shared, and monetized. 

In this context, it is thus essential to establish strong data control and protection measures, such as encryption, access controls, and data anonymization to mitigate a range of security risks, including data breaches, identity theft and cyberattacks. In turn, data sovereignty brings forth significant implications for individuals, organizations, and governments alike. First, it provides individuals with privacy rights and ability to exercise control over personal data. Second, it enables organizations to protect their proprietary information and comply with data protection regulations. Lastly, it allows governments to safeguard national security, regulate fata flows, and foster innovation. Understanding the impact of data sovereignty on these entities is crucial for building a fair and equitable digital ecosystem that respects privacy and promotes innovation. 


Data Sovereignty and EU Policies

The European Union has taken considerable efforts to set up a robust data protection framework, showcasing its commitment to safeguarding the privacy rights of its citizens. This supranational data protection framework rests on two main pillars, the general European Strategy for Data and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Taken together, these data protection mechanisms provide comprehensive sets of rules and regulations that govern the processing, storage, and transfer of personal data within the EU. By establishing this strong data protection framework, the EU seeks to ensure that individuals hold greater control over their personal data, that organizations operate responsibly in handling user information, and that stricter obligations are imposed when it comes to data collection and processing. 

On one hand, the European Strategy for Data aims to establish Europe as a global leader in data utilization and innovation while prioritizing privacy, security, and data sovereignty. It focuses on enhancing data sharing, interoperability, and removing barriers to free data flows. The strategy promotes the creation of European data spaces for specific sectors, emphasizing responsible data governance. On the other hand, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has had a profound impact globally by prioritizing personal data protection and empowering individuals with control over their information. The GDPR imposes strict requirements on organizations within and outside the EU, leading to enhanced data security practices worldwide. It has also harmonized data protection laws within the EU and fostered trust in the digital ecosystem. Overall, the EU’s data protection framework has contributed to further enhancing the development of innovative technologies and tools that support data protection and privacy, further promoting data sovereignty as a fundamental principle in the digital age.

Promoting Data Sovereignty in the EU

In order to promote data sovereignty, the European Union has made a strong effort to enhance data protection mechanisms and infrastructure. This involves strengthening the legal framework around data sovereignty itself, encouraging cooperation among member states, and compelling organizations to adopt more robust data security measures. For instance, the EU encourages organizations to adopt up-to-date data protection practices to safeguard personal information and sensitive data, including encryption, anonymization, and pseudonymization techniques to diminish the risks of unauthorized access or data breaches. 

Furthermore, data interoperability and portability play a crucial role in promoting data sovereignty within the EU. By ensuring that data is compatible enough to be shared and exchanged between different systems and that it can flow smoothly across different entities, the EU aims to unlock the potential for data-driven collaboration and innovation across different sectors of the economy. Through these initiatives, the EU is actively promoting data sovereignty, seeking to strike a balance between protecting individual privacy rights, enabling data-driven innovation, and maintaining regulatory oversight. By fostering a data ecosystem that respects data sovereignty, the EU is paving the way for a responsible and transparent digital landscape where individuals, organizations, and governments can navigate the opportunities and challenges of the data-driven era. 



In conclusion, this article underscores the significance of data sovereignty in the digital age and its relevance in the EU context. Further, the paper highlights the ways in which data sovereignty provides individuals, organizations, and governments with control, protection, and accountability over data. The European Union (EU) has taken notable steps in promoting data sovereignty through its comprehensive data protection framework, demonstrating a commitment to enhancing data protection mechanisms. As we navigate the complexities of the digital era, fostering collaboration between governments, organizations, and individuals is imperative. This collaboration should focus on establishing common standards, sharing best practices, and promoting digital literacy to empower individuals and ensure a collective commitment to data sovereignty.