Part 1: How to secure the ability to create and control Design Flexibility and Control Capability for Germany and Europe with Open Source Software
What is Digital Sovereignty? Why is it so important? Where does OSS come into play for the development of an intra-European solution and what contribution does Univention make? These are the very questions our working student Ann-Kathrin addresses in part one of this blog series on Digital Sovereignty.
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Digital sovereignty in our everyday life
Digital Sovereignty. Two words that are hardly to non-existent in the cosmos of higher education. A discussion about the possibilities for the self-determined use and design of IT at university? No chance. Course-relevant information is shared on WhatsApp, presentations are created with PowerPoint, academic assignments are written with Microsoft Word and Citavi, and in times of online teaching due to the pandemic, students rely on Zoom. Anyone who tries to convince his*her study group to use Open Source Presentation Software, anyone who wants to convince a professor of the advantages of LaTex, or suggests using Rocket.Chat instead of WhatsApp needs good arguments, strong nerves and a lot of time. After all, students’ familiarity with proprietary software and the early occuring lock-in effects result in a low number of students being willing to seriously consider Open Source Alternatives.
This is hardly surprising, but nevertheless alarming. Since the relevance of Digital Sovereignty and the opportunities of OSS for universities, schools, administration, companies and other stakeholders throughout Germany and Europe are still niche topics that rarely reach citizens beyond already interested IT professionals. For me, this blog series is an opportunity to change the status quo, at least in my personal environment. I want to deepen my knowledge of Digital Souvereignty and delve into the depths of the subject. However, the first step is always the hardest. That is why, before I examine the potential of OSS, I want to take a step back and find answers to the following questions: What exactly does Digital Sovereignty mean? And why is the term so ubiquitous in digitalisation today?
The Meaning of Digital Sovereignty
Digital Sovereignty does not only mean data sovereignty but an abundance of dimensions that are supposed to establish and ensure IT‘s strategic autonomy. These dimensions include knowledge, research, development and production sovereignty as well as operational, usage and transparency sovereignty. This results in high “(…) demand on the strategic autonomy‘s freedom of decision and action in the digital space” (Kar & Thapa 2020: 14).
For Prof. Dr.-Eng. Boris Otto, Digital Sovereignty is a key ability “of a natural or legal person to exercise exclusive self-determination concerning the economic asset of data” (Otto 2016: 5). He thus refers to data sovereignty, which is a part of Digital Sovereignty. Kar and Thapa (2020) refer to Digital Strategic Autonomy in their publication, which, beyond data sovereignty, “encompasses the state’s abilities to implement its own political, social and economic priorities without being constrained to an undesirable degree by dependencies in digitization.” (2020: 10). Goldacker (2017: 7) distinguishes between Digital Sovereignty for individual and institutional IT users, IT producers and service providers, and society as a whole. For them, there are different focal points, which make it difficult to agree on a universally valid definition.
Looking for similarities in the definitions, it is obvious that the focus is on political, economic and individual dependencies that need to be dissolved and replaced by control capability, design flexibility and adaptability. If we do not break away from the dominance of a few large IT companies and insist on the three mentioned capabilities, we will move further away from the democratisation of IT infrastructures with actual control capability and design flexibility.