The price of digital communication. Step by step, the world is changing toward a hyper-connected, digital world. Everyone and everything is connected, through a system of thousands of systems, running on the Internet. A poor smartphone owner in Mozambique can receive free online education, improving his hopeless situation. An entrepreneur in France trades effortlessly with other companies in other countries. A scientist at a Western university consults effortlessly, internationally, with colleagues about the latest science in his field. That price all pay is that IT companies and governments of superpowers like China and the U.S., may be examining their data for information important to them.
Is data privacy guaranteed? The underlying systems, servers, telecommunications, are run by Big Tech, among others, but also by thousands of IT and Telecom companies from many countries. Everyone should be confident that their communications with others are safeguarded from cybercrime, from risks of their data being stolen or that their files will be hacked to extortion. But there is no such assurance and, in fact, it seems that these assurances are becoming less by the day.
Digital Legislation. The U.S. and Europe are working on legislation such as the Digital Marketing Act and the Digital Services Act, to get a grip on data traffic, creating more certainties for citizens and businesses. Assurances that are sorely needed as the world becomes increasingly dependent on reliable Internet. The question, however, is whether these steps are enough. After all, we have a Huawei affair, where the company is suspected of, perhaps, passing on information to the Chinese Communist Party. Nothing has been proven, but those who are technically savvy know that the technical possibilities are there. There is also a situation with the U.S., which has numerous laws (Patriot Act, Homeland Security Act, etc.) whereby U.S. IT companies can be forced to provide data to the U.S. government if there is a possible security threat, even if the data is located outside U.S. territory.
National interest prevails. The above shows that super powers like China and the US in particular always subordinate interests of their companies to interests of national security. Perhaps understandable, from the point of view of those countries. But is this acceptable to customers, both private and public, in other countries? Should European countries accept that certain countries, with the argument of national security, look into data of European governments, companies or citizens, without this being approved or even known? Is it acceptable in the digitalizing world that a limited number of large countries with large IT companies can keep thousands of countries, companies and citizens digitally in their grip with the argument of their own national security?
Decouple big IT companies from national interests. Big IT companies and Big Tech platforms are becoming too important as global digital utilities for the entire society to fall under the legal system of one single country. After all, the interests of such a country will always prevail over the interests of the IT company concerned and its customers. It is urgent that Europe tries to find a new way in this. Because of the security of its own governments, companies and citizens. Also because of the development of a European Digital Security policy, which at the moment actually does not yet exist.
What can Europe do? The steps that Europe should take are diverse. But it is of great importance for the so-called “Strategic Autonomy” concept that is currently being worked out by the EU. First of all, Europe should lift the important European IT companies to the European level. In short, a European company law and tax system for important, large European IT companies. This has a number of advantages. First of all, it greatly enhances the prospects of those companies becoming world players. After all, these companies can grow into European Champions. Furthermore, the EU can guarantee, better than a nation-state, that the products of these companies are protected from national security or espionage. The grip of nation-states in Europe on these IT companies would thus be removed. And it would do justice to the position of a digital utility company, which is independent of national interests. This would of course be replaced by an Information Security policy on a European level. But with that it is much better possible, than at the national level, to give general guarantees that no data will be abused in any way by individual nation-states in or outside Europe.
European IT Companies and Platforms. There is another advantage. Non-European countries, struggling with the same security problem as Chinese or American IT companies, could get better guarantees from Europe than from China or the US, that European-made IT can never be misused by nation-states for national security or espionage. This would thus provide a significant competitive advantage for European IT companies. It would also be a major step forward for the governance of the digitalizing world.