In an increasingly interconnected and data-driven world, the concept of digital self-determination has emerged as a critical aspect of individual autonomy and privacy. Digital self-determination refers to the principle that seeks to empower data constituencies to decide how their data is managed in new ways that benefit themselves and society - including within trustworthy data spaces. The ability of individuals, communities, entities and society as a whole to exercise control over their data and make informed decisions about its collection, use, and dissemination helps mitigate the increasing lack of public trust in technology and pave the way for data-based innovation and problem solving. DSD is thus about preventing misuse of data but also about missed uses of data, thereby promoting a balance between the benefits and risks of “datafication” and digital technology.

Digital Self-Determination: A key pillar of empowerment in the context of digital technologies

Acknowledging that data constituencies should have agency over their digital footprints and the power to shape the narratives associated with their online presence represents an evolution of the traditional concept of self-determination. It recognizes that personal data and privacy are critical in the digital era. DSD offers a promising solution to address the pressing issues surrounding data access, reuse, and management, which have long suffered from a global governance void. In fact, DSD transcends the traditional notions of sovereignty and ownership, recognizing that true digital empowerment goes beyond the mere consent mechanism - through trustworthy data relationships and collective forms of data use.

As a result, having a common understanding, practical tools to apply the DSD principle, and strengthening an International Network on Digital Self-Determination becomes imperative, especially with the increasing reliance on digital technologies and the proliferation of data-driven practices.

Moving Forward: Advancing DSD through use cases and collaboration 

Recognizing the need for DSD, various organizations have collaborated to develop and promote the concept internationally. These organizations include the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), the GovLab of New York University, the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Data Governance of the Singapore Management University, the Berkman Klein Center (BKC) of Harvard University, and the Global Tech Policy Practice at TUM School of Social Sciences and Technology.

The network is leading efforts to conduct studies, focusing on how to move from principles to practice and, therefore, implement DSD in use cases. Previous conversations highlighted the context-specific nature of DSD implementation, the need for innovative methods (policy development, new processes, roles, institutions, and technologies), and the relevance of stakeholder collaboration. As a result, the network has developed a comprehensive work plan to transform DSD from a principle into practical action, through three main action fields:

Thought Leadership

This involves conceptualizing and integrating various perspectives to develop a foundational and operational framework for self-determination, both in the digital and non-digital realms. It will also create an action-oriented framework for new DSD’s practical mechanisms: processes, policies, professions, and infrastructures.

Action Research and Prototyping 

This includes operationalizing DSD through use cases that illustrate its value and dimensions in everyday life, prototyping solutions, developing new professions and training programs for data stewards, and creating international guidelines to support trustworthy data innovations based on DSD principles.

Strategic Communication and Advocacy 

This encompasses efforts to facilitate dialogue with diverse stakeholders to advance international adoption and inform policy discussions on DSD. It also involves global advocacy, representation in international events, reflecting on use-case experiences, and developing a platform to maintain a global dialogue on DSD.

Digital Self-Determination seeks to empower individuals and communities to decide how their data is managed in ways that benefit themselves and society. The journey from principle to practice requires an international network that brings together diverse perspectives and expertise. The International Network on Digital Self-Determination connects different actors from around the world to consider how to apply DSD in real-life settings to inform both theory and practice.


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