26 January 2021

CPDP2021 Opening event - Who is sovereign in our digital world? 


On 26 January 2021, the Brussels Privacy Hub, VUB-IES, UNU-CRIS and Microsoft will co-organise the opening event for CPDP2021. 

Who is sovereign in our digital world? This question is paramount in relation to contemporary policy debates about control and cooperation in cyberspace. Digital Sovereignty provides policymakers with a frame to address the policy and regulatory challenges at the interface between ‘traditional’ ideas of governance and new experiments in ‘digital’ governance.


The debates around policies dealing with recent technological developments, in fields of data protection or cybersecurity, for example, emphasise the feeling that contemporary political institutions are not set up to deal with the 21st Century, neither in terms of the way they operate, nor in terms of the approaches they take to defining policy problems.


New sources of power and control are emerging in the world. The core functions of public life are being co-managed by private actors and states, in a dynamic relationship that has yet to be fully understood. This understanding of the power of non-state actors comes to the fore at a moment when key supporters of the global order are rethinking their approach to the multilateral system and are even making efforts to reassert national sovereignty.


States, as security providers, as regulators, and as vehicles for the redistribution of wealth still continue to dominate global fora, but their monopoly of global governance is being fundamentally questioned, if not challenged, by the digital transformation.


Some actors see digital sovereignty as a way to ensure accountability in the digital space toward citizens. Others see technological sovereignty as a space for building mechanisms that ensure that our critical infrastructures are protected. And yet others see the threat of ‘technationalism’ as a threat to global security. Fragmentation threatens to limit the power of the global internet to function properly, but seen through a different lens, is simply a governance problem, of defining the right rules at the right level of authority and legitimacy.


Security has been one of the key attributes of sovereignty since the Treaty of Westphalia, but our ideas about what needs to be secured are changing as the core functions of public life are being digitised. The process of digitalisation transforms the power of different actors in the field, creating a need for new narratives about what it is to be secure, and what needs to be secured, in the 21st Century. Personal data becomes weaponised; water distribution centres, power plants, and hospitals, all enmeshed in our data networks, become vulnerable points.


As the European Union develops policies to make Europe Fit for the Digital Age, we will discuss what it means to be a ‘Digital Sovereign’.


Key questions to be discussed include:


  • Is digital sovereignty a synonym for a reinforced national control over the digital sphere, or does it imply a different form of organisation?
  • Will making Europe Fit for the Digital Age come at the expense of our relations with other regions in the world?
  • Are cybersecurity and digital sovereignty two sides of the same coin: do we need sovereignty for security, and vice versa?

Roundtable with

  • Olivier Bringer, European Commission

  • Prof. Dr. Mireille Hildebrandt, VUB, LSTS

  • Florian Pennings, Microsoft

  • David Pringle, ScienceBusiness

  • Dr. Johannes Thumfart, Gerda Henkel Stiftung

  • Dr. Paul Timmers, IIVII



  • Jamal Shahin, VUB and UNU-CRIS

Time: 18.30 - 19.45 (Brussels Time)

Venue: Online

Registration: The opening event of CPDP2021 is open to everybody free of charge, but registration is required.

Should you face any difficulties with the registration form, please send an e-mail to info@brusselsprivacyhub.eu

To register for the CPDP conference, please consult the CPDP Website

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