Commenting the NSA and the surveillance scandal in 2013, Hans-Peter Uhl who was spokesman on interior affairs for the CDU/CSU group in Germany’s parliament, declared that » We cannot tolerate America ruling Germany as a digital occupying power.' »[i] Catherine MORIN-DESAILLY, Member of French senate wrote a report in 2013 with the title : » Is European Union a digital colony ? [ii] French president Emmanuel Macron stressed more recently this was not acceptable for Denmark’s secret services to help the U.S. National Security Agency spy on European officials,[iii]Although the diagnosis of an insufficient protection of European Union member states in the area of data communication in cyberspace from the intrusion and illegal collection of information by the United States was made already ten years ago, nothing has really changed since.
From the European Union point of view, it is admitted that the US and China digital empires will increasingly dominate cyberspace with information technology tools but also digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI) in the international geopolitical arena in the years to come. The main focus of the European Union regarding AI so far was on its ethical and economic aspects and this is reflected in its main communication strategy. This is in line with the EU promotion of « multilateralism »
However, If Europe wants to rebuild its cyberspace and digital sovereignty, it will have to redouble its efforts and investments. The focus of EU for example on ethical aspects is also important, but is it enough ? Otherwise, it will have to content itself with strategic alliances synonymous with cyber-vassalization
Cyberspace, information technology, digitalization and AI are an integral part of great power geopolitical rivalry. On a more strategic level, the introduction of AI might lead to reinforced competition between actors for full spectrum dominance, a combination of ground, sea, air, cyberspace and space-time (AI) dominance, and result in the transformation of the global geopolitical configuration.
On a more long term perspective and contrary to the idea that digital revolution and the use of AI programmes necessarily triggers political and economic decentralization, it is actually possible that AI provokes a global movement of centralization of power for the benefit of a handful of states and private actors. IA could as a result reinforce monopolies by one or a groups of states and will create new digital empires. Malicious use of AI can therefore have the potential to destabilize the system of international relations.
The states or private actors who are able to combine the storage of big data (In clouds and databases) through cyberspace and IT dominance and the mastery of AI programmes to analyse these data will be more powerful than other actors. A loss of sovereignty is what is awaiting those states who cannot control their own cyberspace and do not possess digital sovereignty (control of their own big data) and AI knowledge. When big data (cloud infrastructures) of a state is outsourced in another country, they will risk loosing control in the long term of their own historical, scientifical, cultural and civilizational memory. Introduction of AI in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and mapping will also facilitate the control of state territory for spatial planning. This geographical information can also be used by external actors (states or terrorists) for geopolitical objectives through the disturbance of infrastructures (water, transport, pipelines..) or influence and perturbation of economic, energetic and demographic flows.
If states and nations will no longer have the full control of their own historical memory and full control on their own geographical space, they will be losing control of their destiny in space and time (this is why AI introduces the space-time dimension of geopolitics).
How can EU Member states regain sovereignty and avoid cyber-vassalization ?
The objective for the European Union member states should focus on how to regain sovereignty in information and communication area.
This new model of « surveillance capitalism » (this thematic was focus of a recent UNESCO/IFAP conference)[iv] though the domination of cyberspace and its use as a factor of power for the emergence of a new geopolitical hierarchy of countries in a situation of domination should be avoided or contained
The EU and its international partners will be able to promote the ethical dimension of AI to the benefit of their citizens only if it reaches a position of strength and sovereignty and not a position of dependence and weakness towards big tech from strongest states and private monopolies.
International cooperation based on inclusiveness, respect and reciprocity will be better achieved with a better geopolitical balance regarding AI between global actors like the US, China, Russia and EU member states. The EU should therefore focus more on questions of data sovereignty and geopolitical balance in Cyberspace.
It would be useful for European Union member states to defend an ethical dimension in the emerging digital world through the largest possible alliances in order to promote a more global and balanced access to new technologies, and be able to develop their own instrument of sovereignty, like sovereign clouds.
It also necessary to warns of the dangers of the extraterritorial principles of the United States for access to private data, in order to strengthen the protection of citizens, private companies and the sovereignty of states against geopolitical use of the « surveillance capitalism » tools in a digitalized world.
European Union member states need to diversify the suppliers of IT products and privilege acquisition of European technology and producers. SolarWinds and Colonial pipelines cyberattacks have demonstrated that the United States is not anymore the global leader to develop products to give countries full protection regarding cyber security issues
There is also an urgent to promote universal legislation to guarantee security and sovereignty of states in this new era of Digital geopolitical competition.
The EU policy for protecting citizens General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could be considered as an interesting model for other countries to avoid the misuse of personal data from Big tech and social media. Under this legislation the European union tries to put big tech corporations, including US companies, under strict EU legislative control.
[ii] Sénat, France (2013), » L’Union européenne, colonie du monde numérique ? « , Rapport d’information de Mme Catherine MORIN-DESAILLY, fait au nom de la commission des affaires européennes n° 443 (2012-2013) – 20 mars 2013