Thinking about digital sovereignty for strategic autonomy?

Digital sovereignty is returning to the forefront of the political scene as the wave of the sovereign cloud takes height in Europe, carried by the Gaia-X project. Digital technology is forcing States to rethink the notion of sovereignty beyond the purely protectionist vision, to see this concept as a real social issue.

“What is happening with digital technology is that we can see that sovereignty is attacking us at the root”, affirms Henri verdier at . Asked about this notion of sovereignty, the digital ambassador recalls that this historically French thought has not always been popular with our European neighbors. “Not everyone is as attentive to it as we are in Europe. France is indeed one of the countries in Europe which has thought about the question of sovereignty the most, considering that it should have the choice and the capacity to make its decisions alone and free. “

The former interministerial director of digital and the state information and communication system, appointed as digital ambassador in 2018, considers that digital sovereignty is above all a cultural battle to be waged. For the diplomat, who represents the interests of France internationally and acts to better supervise and regulate technologies, many daily experiences on platforms and networks contain “Californian standards” not necessarily identical to European values. . “Five years ago, we could make neo-Nazi comments on social networks, but not show a naked breast,” says Henri Verdier. “Basically, Silicon Valley has succeeded in a takeover bid on the Internet consumer. We are under domination from San Francisco, but also from Los Angeles and Hollywood. It’s very important to have our creators. “

And it is a digital revolution that is playing out on the world stage. “Everyone has a presentiment that there is like a new industrial revolution and the whole world remembers that the winners of the industrial revolution of the 18the century have dominated the world for two centuries. So there, there is a kind of race for domination, like China and the United States which are in the lead, but also all the emerging countries which are in the process of building their economy or their democracy, which wonder which will be their degree of freedom, if they will be able to defend their values, their businesses and their citizens, ”analyzes Henri Verdier.

An economic and cultural influence from the West

This hold of the big social networks is also noticeable from the point of view of the inventors. For Henri Verdier, this digital conquest is a matter of knowledge and mastery of technology. “Of course, the big social networks are exerting a grip on our economies. But what strikes me the most is not so much their market share – they invented the markets so it’s normal that they dominate them – but the fact of not being able to innovate without going through them. Concretely, if you want to be distributed in the App Store, you are obliged to sign their general conditions of use. And you will probably also be using Facebook Connect, Paypal, and Google Maps. To launch your innovation, you will have to ask permission from giant players, share data with them. You will grow up, but as you grow up you will raise them, ”argues the ambassador.

“If we want to have an industrial policy, to have a right to protect personal data, to have a right that pays attention to the environmental impact, we are on the verge of no longer having a choice because we live in an infrastructure that is conceived not only abroad, but without our having had our say at the time it was conceived, ”he observes. “Basically, by exporting the internet model, we also export the fairly Western values ​​of transparency, cooperation, freedom of expression, and there are people who find that it is a form of domination and who try to export other models. “

But Europe also has assets up its sleeve. Henri Verdier recalls that the Old Continent is demonstrating its sovereignty at several levels, particularly on the industrial level, thanks to the deployment of 5G, but also on the legal level with the GDPR. “Europe has also made GDPR a global standard, since today Japan has an almost equivalent law, followed by California, Mexico, and soon India. We will be several billion humans in the same framework of privacy protection, ”adds the specialist.

The digital revolution facing its contradictions

However, the actions taken by states to trigger this digital revolution can be counterproductive, notes the diplomat. “Sometimes, when there are clouds gathering in this digital revolution, the reaction of states can threaten the infrastructure itself, because they tend to fragment it, centralize it or control it. Faced with all this, digital diplomacy, basically, is to try to restore the balance, to keep the internet free, open, secure and united. “

At the Quai d’Orsay, where forty digital experts share technical files, the ambassador has a front row seat to see the harmful effects of this revolution underway. “Basically, the internet, because it was based on openness, contribution, collaboration and transparency, has changed the world. Today, in some ways, it turns out badly, when some divert it for criminal or belligerent purposes, or when we see negative effects such as the spread of hate speech, the issues of Green IT and pollution. linked to IT, but also when some of the bosses of these companies are taken by a form of hubris, ”explains Henri Verdier.

He quotes on this subject the words of Mark Zuckerberg three years ago. The CEO suggested at the time that Facebook could claim the role of unifying the people and actively participate in democracy.

New battles

If the Internet revolution was won by the American GAFAM, “new battles are beginning”, for which it will be necessary to do it “differently”, announces Henri Verdier. “Connected health, the smart city, smart transport, connected agriculture, will be new battles. As much, I am always a little worried now, when I see the French taking in the footsteps of Silicon Valley, because Silicon Valley is a whole ecosystem with the best talents, as much I think that these new battles do not are absolutely not played. “

Europe is relaunching the sovereign cloud machine, this time with the Gaia-X super-structure, which brings together European partners as well as the main suppliers in the market. Henri Verdier feels satisfied with the way Gaia-X presents itself. “There is something very digital in Gaia-X’s strategy”, he observes, welcoming this “post-digital industrial project”, which gives the responsibility to manufacturers to “build a base for interoperability”.

Sovereignty also remains intrinsically linked to data. For Henri Verdier, the limits of sovereignty are reached as soon as “the economy can no longer innovate without using the resources of others, without asking for permission. The day Google Maps suddenly changed its prices, and the API cost a hundred times more than before, sub-prefectural sites had to close. The more data there is, the more open data there is, the less our economy is dependent on others ”.

In the field of open data, Henri Verdier notes that “undeniable progress” has been made in France in recent years. “There are beautiful datasets that are now open source, including the Sirene database, the cadastre or even the address database”, underlines the one who had piloted the Etalab mission in the past.

But this plan is not flawless. Within the Quai d’Orsay, for example, there is still no single repository for the exhaustive list of countries in the world. There are indeed three lists attached to distinct directorates, without any of them containing the same number of countries, depending on the repository on which they are based.

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