The 2021 edition of the Internet Governance Forum, which will be held in Katowice (Poland), kicks off in less than a week. For the occasion, the IGP and the Free University of Brussels have come together to organize a session titled Beyond hype: what does digital sovereignty actually mean?. As the name suggests, the session will deal with the consequences of widespread use of this contentious concept in policymaking. For the last decade or so, most commentators have regarded the term as coterminous with states’ pushes for control over different parts of cyberspace, but some recent scholarship has been keen on using the term to, for example, frame citizens’ pushes for control over their personal digital data. Therefore, critical reflection on the key tenets of digital sovereignty is much called for.

A number of questions that we need to ask all parties engaged are:

  • What lies behind different uses of the concept of digital sovereignty?
  • Is the current institutional system for the governance of the Internet able to withstand calls for digital sovereignty?
  • Can states share sovereignty in this space with other actors, or do increased policy actions that push for state sovereignty signal the end of the multistakeholder model?
  • What can and cannot be bordered in a digital space, and who has the authority and legitimacy to exercise these actions?

This session will address these questions in a constructive way, allowing for interaction between a wide range of participants. It will build on debates from previous IGFs (most notably Paris and Berlin) where debates on digital sovereignty and the emergence of different regional approaches to Internet governance were highlighted.

The session is Town Hall #23 and will take place Wednesday, December 8, at 10:45 CET (yes, that’s 4:45 EST, you’ve read that right), and it will be possible to participate both online and onsite. Participation will be open to all audience members, since we’ll be using a fishbowl conversation setup. A fishbowl conversation setup, you say? Indeed. Fishbowl conversations are participant-driven meetings that try to avoid the drawbacks of standard conference formats such as presentations, round tables or Q&A sessions, encouraging participation from all audience members. Curious about how that works? Then join us on December 8.

A short paper setting out IGP’s approach to digital sovereignty can be downloaded here.

Registering is pretty simple: just click here, register on the IGF website and add this session to your schedule!