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FROM CYBERSPACE TO THE DATASPHERE : CHARTING THE PATH TO EUROPEAN DIGITAL AUTONOMY





Introduction


The digital domain now plays a crucial role in all sectors of activity, transforming the way we live, work, and interact. Rapid technological advancements and constant innovations have propelled civil society, the political sphere, and even the military into a new digital era.


However, it is concerning to see that France and Europe find themselves in a situation of technological dependence, especially concerning infrastructure and cloud services, where American players have taken the lead. This reality raises colossal challenges that require a holistic approach to tackle.



Technological Dependence and Cloud Challenges


France and Europe's dependence on infrastructure and cloud services represents a major challenge for our continent's digital sovereignty. American giants such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud have managed to preempt these strategic domains, establishing quasi-monopolistic dominance. This situation raises fundamental questions about our ability to protect our economic, political, and security interests.


Due to this dependence, European companies face worrisome asymmetry in the digital domain. Potential risks include vulnerability to major outages, reliance on foreign providers' data privacy and protection policies, as well as difficulty in maintaining effective control over essential digital infrastructure. This situation could have detrimental consequences for our businesses, institutions, and society as a whole.



The Crucial Importance of Data and the Controversy Surrounding Google Scraping


In today's digital economy, data has become an invaluable resource. It powers artificial intelligence, enabling significant advances in various fields such as healthcare, transportation, energy, and finance. However, France and Europe face complex challenges regarding data management and usage.


A striking example of these challenges is Google's recent change in privacy policy. This update allows massive scraping of public web data, enabling Google to collect and exploit all data published on the web without a clearly defined limit. This development raises fundamental questions about privacy, security, and ethics, highlighting the need for more stringent regulations on data collection and usage.


Google scraping raises concerns about individuals' privacy protection as it enables the company to gather a considerable amount of personal information without explicit user consent. Moreover, this practice raises concerns about the security of the collected data and its subsequent use. The extent to which Google can exploit this data and what privacy safeguards are in place for the individuals involved remains unclear.


Ethically, massive data scraping raises questions about ownership and control of information published on the web. This practice underscores the power asymmetry between tech giants and individuals, challenging fundamental rights to privacy and self-determination for those affected. Thoughtful consideration of how data is collected, used, and protected is necessary to establish clear ethical standards and ensure trust in the digital economy.


In response to these challenges, it has become imperative for European authorities to take steps to more strictly regulate data collection and usage. Initiatives such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have been put in place to strengthen the protection of European citizens' personal data. However, there are still challenges to overcome to ensure responsible and ethical data usage in the digital economy.


It is essential to strike a balance between harnessing data for innovation and progress while safeguarding individuals' privacy and upholding fundamental ethical principles. Additional measures, such as specific regulations to govern data scraping and clear consent mechanisms, may be necessary to preserve user rights and maintain trust in data usage within the domain.



Beyond the Legal Framework


Regulation is a crucial element in shaping the digital domain, but it cannot be viewed as the sole solution. The challenges go beyond the traditional legal framework. It is imperative to adopt a broader approach, integrating political, economic, and industrial strategies.


The implementation of regulatory measures must be accompanied by a visionary industrial policy and substantial investments in research and development. It is time to recognize the critical importance of the digital domain and the urgency to break free from technological dependence to preserve our sovereignty and protect our strategic interests.



GAIA-X: An European Attempt to Create a Sovereign Cloud


In the face of technological dependence and the dominance of American players in the cloud domain, Europe has undertaken a major initiative to develop a sovereign cloud: the GAIA-X project. This is a collaboration between France and Germany, supported by many European partners, with the aim of creating a data and digital services ecosystem that respects European values of data protection, privacy, and transparency.


GAIA-X seeks to establish a decentralized infrastructure based on common standards and rules, allowing European companies to store, process, and exchange data securely. It also aims to promote interoperability among different cloud service providers in Europe, fostering competition and preventing excessive concentration of power.


This ambitious project aims to strengthen Europe's digital sovereignty by providing businesses and institutions with an alternative to US-based service providers. By promoting trust and data control, GAIA-X aims to enable European players to retain control over their strategic data and stimulate innovation by facilitating the development and use of AI-based and data analytics solutions.


However, this initiative is not without controversy. One of its founding members, the French company Scaleway, exited in November 2021, expressing concerns about GAIA-X's openness to American and Chinese actors.


Yann Lechelle, CEO of Scaleway, stated, "I no longer have time to waste with a project tainted from within by the GAFAM." According to him, this openness to non-European actors compromises Europe's digital sovereignty in the cloud domain. This dissent underscores the challenges and debates surrounding the involvement of major tech companies in building a sovereign cloud in Europe.


Despite this controversy, GAIA-X represents a promising initiative in Europe's quest for autonomy and digital sovereignty. It is a crucial step toward creating a European data and digital services ecosystem, promoting economic competitiveness, and preserving Europe's strategic interests in a constantly evolving digital world.


With GAIA-X, Europe may have the opportunity to become a major player in the global technological landscape while ensuring data protection and preserving European values. It is essential to support such initiatives and continue investing in innovative solutions that strengthen our sovereignty and competitiveness in the digital domain.



Conclusion


The technological dependence of France and Europe in the digital domain presents a major and multifaceted challenge. It is crucial to adopt a holistic approach that integrates regulatory, political, economic, and industrial dimensions to ensure our digital sovereignty, protect our strategic interests, and preserve our fundamental values in an ever-changing digital world.


The European Union, with its ongoing regulatory package (DSA, DMA, DGA, DA, IA Act), provides the political context for emancipation that we have been waiting for years and even offers the operational framework with the construction of a European cloud, such as the GAIA-X project.


GAIA-X represents a path toward autonomy and digital sovereignty, but it requires concerted action and strong political will. It is time to seize this opportunity and position Europe as a major player in the new global technological order while preserving our fundamental values.



Hannan OTMANI

Attorney-at-Law, Paris Bar

Founder of WISER AVOCATS




Du cyberespace à la datasphère _ tracer la voie vers l'autonomie numérique Européenne
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