The norm development of digital sovereignty between China, Russia, the EU and the US: From the late 1990s to the Covid-crisis 2020/21 as catalytic event

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Abstract

This chapter examines the norm development process of digital sovereignty
in China, the EU, the US and Russia, investigating concepts such as digital
sovereignty, technological sovereignty, internet sovereignty, data sovereignty, souveraineté numérique, digitale Souveränität, 网络主权 ( ‘ network sovereignty ’ ), 信息主权 (‘information sovereignty’) and С у в е р е н н ы й и н т е р н е т (‘sovereign
internet’). It develops an intellectual history of the norm development of digital
sovereignty, roughly following Finnemore and Sikkink’s three-stage model, with
each stage being initiated by a catalytic event. The first phase, norm emergence,
lasts from the late 1990s and the Patriot Act in 2001 to Russia’s laws on inter-
net control in 2012. During this phase, under the US’s largely uncontested digital
hegemony, China is the prime norm entrepreneur of digital sovereignty, promoting-
ing 网络主权 (‘network sovereignty’) and 信息主权 (‘information sovereignty’). The second phase, norm cascade, begins with the catalytic event of the Snowden
revelations in 2013. This phase is characterised by an increasingly multipolar
order. During this phase, the EU adopts a notion of digital sovereignty with a
focus on economic aspects. And Russia’s notion of С у в е р е н н ы й и н т е р н е т
(‘sovereign internet’) becomes increasingly radicalised. In Russia and France, illib-
eral accounts of digital sovereignty are supported by Carl Schmitt’s geopolitical
theories. From 2016 to 2020, the US and the EU underwent an additional phase, norm universalisation. Triggered by the catalytic events of Russia’s interference
with the US general election and Brexit in 2016, these countries and regions
became aware that their political systems were vulnerable to manipulation.
The COVID crisis constitutes the most recent catalytic event and initiates the fourth stage of the norm development cycle, the stage of norm internalisation. Processes of digital sovereignty are increasingly implemented, and they emerge in a bottom-up manner, with civil society playing an important role. However, this, in turn, makes clear that digital sovereignty in liberal societies is strongly characterised and limited by the power of the private sector and restrictions on governmental power, such as federalism and multilateralism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnforcing Rights in a Changing World
Subtitle of host publicationComputers Privacy Data Protection (CPDP)
EditorsDara Hallinan, Paul de Hert, Ronald Leenes
PublisherHart Publishing
Pages1-44
Volume14
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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