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A New Departure – How we can shape digitalisation

Eine Drohne im Sonnenaufgang.Foto : StockSnap/Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons.

The digitalisation of our lives is not a new phenomenon. It has been fundamentally changing our lives and coexistence for years. And while we have found some common answers, more open questions remain. Politicians have failed in recent years to actively shape the digital transformation of our society and to stimulate the necessary discussions on these important questions for the future. We are now paying the price for this failure: We are at the mercy of an ever faster pace of technological change which in turn is transforming the political and economic framework.

After the liberating and enabling dawn of the digital age in the 1990s and the new possibilities offered by the so-called Web 2.0 in the 2000s, major challenges and problems are now gradually becoming apparent: unwanted market concentration, inadequate regulation, excessively powerful players, excessive surveillance, and a massive loss of confidence in technical innovation. A feeling of disillusionment is spreading and not only among those who have lost out as a result of these developments. Even Internet pioneers who struck it rich in the heady days of digitalisation are increasingly critical of recent developments. Instead of the vision of an open Internet for all, we are now seeing increasingly closed platforms and markets in the hands of a few extremely valuable companies. Instead of offering a potential for freedom through digital self-empowerment, Web 2.0 is increasingly turning into a threat to the self-determination of citizens and consumers. While it is a catalyst for meaningful innovation and disruption, digitalisation has also driven forward massive deregulation and a dangerous privatisation of the law. Every day brings new reports of new security vulnerabilities and data scandals, clearly illustrating the need for digitalisation to be the subject of a new approach and regulation. What is lacking is space for public discourse and effective new regulation for a digitalised world for the common good.

It is therefore time to venture a new departure. It is important to break up both the encrusted structures and the monopolies that have grown over time in the technical, economic and social realities of the digitalised present. A new start is needed, one in which trustworthy standards and democratic regulation are not played off against innovation and the potential for growth, but are finally considered a locational and competitive advantage. Together, we must find tangible and forward-looking answers for this new departure in order to develop new ideas for the digital society. Network policy and the active shaping of digitalisation are central cross-sectoral political tasks for our modern society. We are fighting for openness, responsibility, freedom and justice on the Internet. We want to shape a just digital transition. The central themes for us are free access to the net for all, the protection of our privacy and personal data, a future-proof digital infrastructure that ensures a high degree of openness and security, as well as an innovative economy and administration in the digital age that respect social, environmental and societal principles including in a dynamic cross-border market.

  1. Monopolies, platforms & fairness
  2. Standard Advantage IT Security & Data Protection
  3. Robotics, AI & Automation
  4. Digital Fair Trade: Sustainability & Participation

Monopolies, platforms & fairness


Fair digital market: breaking up monopolies and closed structures

Openness is the guiding principle for digital innovations and consumers. All people should be able to communicate with each other, no matter what platform or provider they use (interconnectivity, interoperability and data portability). We demand equal and open access to the platforms and systems of significant market importance, so that smaller and newer competitors can have some chance of success. This includes access to infrastructures such as networks and app markets as well as access to hardware knowledge or non-personal data such as feedback or process data. We need competition and anti-trust rules that take account of the new digital and networked power mechanisms and the power of data.

Platforms must be monitored and decision-making criteria must be rendered verifiable

The algorithms of information systems must be made accessible and generally verifiable wherever they make automated decisions about people – at least for the supervisory authorities. This includes the disclosure of training data for applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The aim is to avoid discrimination and prevent existing social injustices from being perpetuated by self-learning systems. We call for better equipped independent supervisory authorities with inspection powers to control algorithms, analogous to those for food safety or banking supervision.

Digitalisation for all: a fair departure

Social standards must also apply and be enforced for digitalised and automated work in particular. Labour law must regulate platform economics in such a way as to ensure that precarious working conditions – digital day labourers – are transformed into stable and fairly remunerated jobs. Public services and information such as map data, housing information and transport data must be available to all. Companies, some of which derive high profits from digitalisation, must be made to live up to their responsibilities, including through fair taxation, for example on the increased added value derived through automation. Such an automation dividend could be used to finance public investment in training for new professions. Instead of platform capitalism we want a social-ecological digital market economy and a socially acceptable digital transformation of the economy and society.

Standard Advantage IT Security & Data Protection


Digital product safety: Trust through high standards

We want to introduce mandatory minimum requirements and standards for IT security. This includes the legal obligation to notify and quickly close security gaps. There must be a harmonised certification procedure for hardware and software throughout the EU. Networkable household appliances should be able to work in offline mode even without the Internet. Digital product liability must ensure that manufacturers who deliver unsatisfactory safety must pay for the damage caused. Digital goods and services must be the subject of mandatory security standards and liability obligations just like analogue products.

Authorities on the move: Promoting information security including through example

In order to impose high IT security on the market, we need better equipped independent IT security authorities, able to pay market rates for specialists and their training and further education. We demand that only software with open source code be used in public administration and that the saved license fees be invested to promote free and secure software. State authorities must not conceal known IT security gaps in companies and products or exploit them for their own purposes, and certainly not buy or trade in them. There must also be export controls for digital attack tools that are not designed for security testing. The state must improve IT security, not undermine it.

Innovation and protection: self-determination in the digital world as a factor of location

The EU’s basic data protection regulation is already regarded as the global gold standard in data protection. On this basis, we want to promote innovative and data protection-friendly companies as a unique digital selling point in Europe and make ‘Privacy by Design’ and ‘Data Protection made in Europe’ a competitive advantage. This includes investments in technical data protection research and anonymization technologies, especially in connection with ‘big data’ and algorithms. The analysis of large amounts of data must take place anonymously and must not lead to individual profiles being created without the consent of those concerned. Effective application and enforcement of data protection legislation requires better-equipped supervisory authorities, which have – and can pay for – the necessary technical expertise. We want to make Europe as a whole a safe digital haven for fundamental rights and the rule of law. In the police sector, therefore, we should focus on duly justifiable data collection, analysis and transfer based on just cause and the rule of law rather than on routine untargeted mass monitoring and data retention without probable cause. People must be able to decide who knows what about them and when.

Robotics, AI & Automation

Awareness raising first! A conscious approach to automation

We need an informed public debate on automation. This requires publicly funded research on the overarching ethical and legal aspects conditioning the impact of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics, the results of which must also be made public and discussed. The EU must create a framework that brings science and politics together, for example through public consultation processes or interparliamentary assemblies. We therefore call for a debate at European level with the aim of helping to shape the technological revolution. Digital ethics and guidelines for automation need to be developed across Europe.

Coding responsibly: setting ethical and legal guidelines

We want robotics and artificial intelligence to be developed further on the basis of ethical and social science research and mandatory technology impact assessments. To this end, any approach must incorporate the best available technical safety standards and the possibility of intervention. For developers, the ‘do no harm’ principle must be mandatory: Robots in particular must not be designed to kill people or harm them. They must be deployed in accordance with guaranteed individual rights and fundamental freedoms. These include the principles of data protection-friendly technology design, human integrity and the respect for human dignity. Sensors that can record image and sound on networked devices or robots, for example, must be clearly identifiable. In addition, we want to reduce the ecological footprint of robotics and AI development to a minimum. We want technology that respects forward-looking standards to protect fundamental values.

Robotics as added value: Putting people first

We want people to benefit from social and health services even if they reject robotic systems and artificial intelligence in the form of implants or as an extension of the human body. All those affected, must have the right to control digital prostheses and implants and the machines they live with. As a human being, I should always be able to intervene in the operation of automatic systems. Autonomous machines are supposed to make our lives easier, not replace us or force us into rigid processes. Autonomous machines also are there to serve humans and must be controllable at all times.

4. Digital Fair Trade: Sustainability & Participation


Opening the opportunities of digitalisation up to all people

We do not want to treat developing countries just as suppliers of raw materials for value creation in certain regions of the Global North. The same principle as for fair trade in goods and raw materials must also apply to the extraction of non-personal machine and sensor data: it should not be an unconditional free flow of data, but a fair trade in which the local economy also benefits from it. Even former industrial regions now fear turning into the extended workbench of Silicon Valley. We therefore call for full taxation of cross-border profits in the global digital marketplace. We also see fair access to the world’s knowledge as part of development cooperation. A new edition of the Doha reform on the knowledge society is needed in the WTO in order to give developing and emerging countries access to technological know-how. We also want a fair world trade in digitalisation, not digital colonialism.

Forward-looking Sustainability: Digitalisation for the environment and climate

With the help of IT, we want to increase resource efficiency and reduce energy and raw material consumption. This calls for smart power supply grids and intelligently networked transport systems. However, in order to be accepted, they must meet data protection requirements and the highest IT security standards. In order to ensure that digitalisation itself does not become a resource guzzler, we want to promote low-energy IT technology and push back Always-On devices. Networked transport systems must above all support public transport by making it simpler and more effective. In addition, however, we also need to invest in large-scale projects such as new logistics and long-distance transport concepts, coordinated at a European level. Digitalisation can contribute to sustainability and ecological transformation if used intelligently and consciously.

Promoting democracy through participatory digitalisation in the world

We want to use digitalisation to make European and international political processes more transparent. This applies to negotiations on trade agreements as well as to the working groups of the EU Council of Ministers or the lobby registers in Brussels and other European capitals. Digitalisation has made improved co-determination of European and international issues through public consultation and citizen participation possible, but it must be implemented and taken seriously. However, we are still opposed to online elections or e-voting because of the unresolved issues concerning security and verifiability. We want to incorporate democratic and constitutional principles into the technology and structures of Internet governance to break up dictatorships and prevent their emergence throughout the world. These would include, inter alia, open administrative data sets for a better communication of decisions, anonymous communication channels to promote press freedom and prevent censorship and decentralised social networks that counteract mass manipulation through monopolies or state propaganda. Transport infrastructures such as data lines must under no circumstances be able to control the contents. Digitalisation can be a force for democracy, but it must be consciously developed with that in mind.