The German Government is evolving its strategy on digital platforms, as we had already reported earlier (Digital Sovereignty - Participate! Contribute!, Whitebook Digital Platforms in the Makes). The expected White Paper has been published in March 2017. has reviewed the paper and summarized the most important results with respect to digital sovereignty being at the core of agenda. The civil society has to stay alert due whitepaper shortcomings. Also, ongoing international trade negotiations may have huge negative impacts on privacy and digital sovereignty ( has commented on this).

White Book and Digital Sovereignty

„Assuring individual civic rights and data sovereignty“ is one of the two core goals of the digital regulatory policy of the German government. The planned regulatory policy shall help achieve a high degree of regulatory reliability while all market participants enjoy the same level of market access – the notion of „digital social economy“ („digitale Soziale Marktwirtschaft“) is introduced to be used synonymously. For enterprises as well as for users and consumers predictability of legal decisions shall be reached. Areas beyond legal jurisdiction will not be tolerated. Our history shows that predictable legal decisions are an important pillar for stability and an orderly social and economic environment. Something which has not yet been achieved in the digital economy.

The E-Privacy act of the European Commission is supported in the white paper, because it integrates communications services over digital platforms into the data protection regulation. In order to assure a modern data economy, data sovereignty shall be established as a guiding principle in data protection. „The guiding principle of data sovereignty puts informational self determination of individuals over ‚their‘ data at the core...“ (Das Leitbild der Datensouveränität stellt die informationelle Selbstbestimmung des Einzelnen über die Nutzung ‚seiner‘ Daten in den Mittelpunkt...“). Of course, „free data flow across Europe – the European data space“ must assure data protection and data security and safety. The German government plans to introduce these options into the ongoing consultation process on „Building a European Data Economy“, started on 2017-01-10. However, it seems that current proposals (e.g. in the course of the Industry 4.0 initiative) have mainly been influenced by industrial representatives – based on experience digital sovereignty is not really taken into consideration in such a set-up. will follow-up closely on this.

In the course of the „planned European introduction of the data protection regulation“ all individuals (e.g. users, consumers) shall have practicable tools at their fingertips to assure their competent and confident working with digital platforms. Important tools mentioned are:

  • Anonymisation and pseudonymisation
  • A data protection friendly set-up (Privacy by design and by default)
  • Guidelines and standards
  • Secure and safe identification
  • Monitoring of general terms and conditions as an extension to data protection in B2C business

The participation of all citizens in the net-policy discussions shall be stimulated and fostered with means stemming from the Future Investment Fonds Digitalization (Zukunftsinvestitionsfond Digitalisierung). A democratic digital behaviour shall be established thereby. However, does not yet see a clear picture of what a democratic digital culture should look like. Even in non-digital environments free speech and hate speech can often not be clearly distinguished, but their authorship may be visible.

The proposed regulation is expected to be moved forward within five areas of activities: fair competition, creation of a modern data economy, area-wide deployment of digital infrastructures, assuring a democratic digital culture, and strengthening digital government expertise and structures. From the perspective of digital sovereignty, the following activities seem most important

  • Introduction of the European data protection regulation starting May 2018,
  • Promoting anonymisation and pseudonymisation of data,
  • Enforcing obligations for transparency and Information by digital platforms.

We Have to Watch Out

The white paper on digital platforms provides an excellent foundation for implementing basic digital rights in Germany (and Europe). However, it should be noted that anonymisation and pseudomisation functions are only recommended instead of specifying clearly their properties and required areas of applicability. Also the extension of civil rights to the digital representation of individuals is not addressed – the digital charter organisation (Digitalcharta, recommends and fosters such a discussion on European level. The economic value of data made available by users is also not recognized. The white paper requires that users are informed on the use of their data in a comprehensible way. But it ignores the potential economic value of such data for the users to claim adequate compensation by digital platforms. And why is there no request that users be able to opt-out of the utilisation of data by third parties without losing the right to further avail of the digital platform functions – there are too many platforms without equivalent alternatives.

Further it must be stressed that binding international law imposed through trade agreements, most notably TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement), - should they be signed - can foil the goals for regulating digital platforms. Living and working together in an agreeable social and digital environment may become victim to the so-called free trade. While the TiSA negotiation status is kept a secret, leaks which have become accessible in 2016 indicate the worst for digital sovereignty and data protection.

We all have to stay on alert and stand up for our digital rights!