Five Principles for Collective Digital Sovereignty

Photo by Ari He on UnsplashWhat would it mean for digital sovereignty to be collective, rather than individual or national?

Digital sovereignty has been growing as a narrative, arising from the perception of a lack of control over the data, the value, the trajectories, etc of digital systems.  The narrative has principally operated at two levels: the national and the individual[1].  National digital sovereignty looks to secure political and/or economic control for governments.  Individual digital sovereignty seeks to secure control, particularly over data, for individuals.

But there has been a missing middle with very little discussion of collective digital sovereignty[2], defined here as the ability of a group or community to exercise control over its digital environment, including the infrastructure, data, and platforms that are used within it.

Fractions of this can be found, especially if we conceive the collective as a low-income community in which the value of digital data, devices and infrastructure is extracted to the benefit of large corporations and/or the state.  Hence, ideas such as community wireless networks[3] or community data trusts[4].  Putting these and other ideas for the missing middle[5] together, five principles of collective digital sovereignty can be created:

  1. Infrastructure: technology infrastructure is, as far as possible, based around open systems and standards, and owned, deployed and maintained by the collective
  2. Data: a collective data governance model is applied that controls who accesses and who benefits from data generated by those within the collective
  3. Capabilities: digital skills and knowledge are developed within the collective, enabling not just use of the technology but also understanding of the structural context of the technology
  4. Platforms: the apps and platforms that structure economic and social interaction are, as far as possible, based on open software, developed participatively, and owned and managed collectively
  5. Advocacy: the collective will advocate for higher-level discourse and policies and regulations that support the other principles of collective digital sovereignty

[1] Pohle, J., & Thiel, T. (2020) Digital sovereignty, Internet Policy Review, 9(4)

[2] MTST (2023) Homeless Worker Movement in Brazil and the Struggle for Digital Sovereignty, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto, Sao Paulo

[3] Keysar, H., Luning, E.C. & Untiedig, A. (2022) Prototypes as agents of transition: the case of DIY wireless technology for advancing community digital sovereignty, Journal of Peer Production, 15

[4] Singh, P.J. (2019) Data and Digital Intelligence Commons (Making a Case for their Community Ownership), Data Governance Network

[5] AdB (2017) Barcelona City Council Technological Sovereignty Guide, Ajuntament de Barcelona, Barcelona; Ricaurte, P. & Grohmann, R. (2021) Data sovereignty and alternative development models, Bot Populi, 22 Oct; MTST (ibid.);


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