Data sovereignty

André Golliez (Zetamind Ltd, Swiss Data Alliance)

Data sovereignty refers to the right and the ability of individuals or organisations (companies, administrations, political bodies, etc.) to control and to use autonomously the data they produced or collected or that concern them.

The situation today

Up to now, the principle of data sovereignty was primarily subject to legislation to protect data from misuse. Examples include in particular the data protection legislation in relation to personal data or the competition and intellectual property law in relation to the use of technical data of private companies. The principle of data sovereignty will play a key role in future given the proactive prospective of enabling a better use of available data while conforming with the rights of the individuals and the organisations entitled to such data. Three main lines of action have crystallised over the past 15 years: the open and free use by anyone of as much non-personal technical data as possible (open data), the use of personal data by the persons concerned (my data) and the sharing of sensitive data between companies and administrations under restrictive conditions (shared data).

Little has evolved in Switzerland with regard to these three pillars of a self-determined and successful data-based economy. Binding legislation is missing for open data, especially for open government data. Legislation regarding personal data still revolves mostly around data protection; the new, revised legislation, however, also includes the right to data portability. A legal framework and relevant organisational and technical infrastructures are necessary in order for companies and administrations to be able to share sensitive technical data in a trusted way.

Future prospects

In coming years, the question will be to determine who owns and who uses the data collected in Switzerland or produced by Swiss citizens. In consideration of the growing exclusive concentration of data on few global platforms, Switzerland’s data sovereignty is under serious threat. Legal, organisational, technical and educational measures are necessary at all levels in Switzerland to ensure that all its citizens, political bodies, companies, administrations and other institutions and organisations will be able to use their data in an optimised and self-determined way in future.

In coming years, Switzerland will need a comprehensive data policy to ensure its data sovereignty. Such policy requires the participation of the society, the economy and the scientific community to be able to create together a trustworthy Swiss data space.