Navigating the Terrain of Data Sovereignty: What about Individual Rights?

Navigating the Terrain of Data Sovereignty: What about Individual Rights?

Data Sovereignty
29 May, 2023
Sara Buccino, consultant at The Lisbon Council asbl

In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, the speed of change is unprecedented. In this swiftly advancing technological environment, data sovereignty has emerged as a crucial consideration for individuals, organizations, and governments. With data becoming the cornerstone of modern economies and societies, it is essential to ensure control, protection, and ownership of this valuable asset. In this context, the concept of data sovereignty refers to the authority and control that a state or jurisdiction possesses over the data generated and collected within its borders. It encompasses the fundamental principles that individuals, nations, and organizations should have the right to determine the usage, sharing, and protection of their data.

Therefore, data sovereignty allows nations to protect their economic interests, preserve individual privacy rights, and enhance national security. Moreover, data sovereignty empowers individuals and organizations to have a say in how their data is utilized, shared, and monetized. Additionally, data sovereignty fosters trust, ownership, and accountability, promotes innovation, and ensures regulatory compliance through responsible data governance. In an era where data has become a driving force behind decision-making, societal advancement, and economic growth, data sovereignty serves as a vital foundation for shaping a digital landscape that values privacy, upholds rights, and empowers individuals, states, and organizations.

Given the importance of the topic in the current geopolitical environment, this article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of data sovereignty, shedding light on its various dimensions, and exploring how it can be promoted and protected. The content of this article on data sovereignty directly aligns with the overarching goal of the TANGO project. TANGO aims to develop a trustworthy and secure platform that facilitates the secure sharing, analysis, and collaboration of data across different sectors and domains. In this regard, the article emphasizes the importance of individual control over data, robust data protection mechanisms, and the harmonization of data regulation. These key principles align closely with the TANGO project's objective of building a secure and resilient data ecosystem that enables efficient and responsible data sharing while upholding privacy, security, and trust. 

Understanding Data Sovereignty 

Data sovereignty is closely linked to data ownership, which involves the rights and responsibilities of individuals, organizations, and governments concerning data. In today's complex technological landscape, internet users generate massive amounts of data through online activities and interactions. As such, data ownership asserts the authority of individuals, states, and organizations to determine how their data is used, shared, and monetized. It empowers users to retain control over their personal information, allowing them to decide how it is collected, processed, and utilized by others. Moreover, data ownership establishes a framework of responsibility, accountability, and consent, enabling data owners to protect their interests. Upholding data ownership principles is crucial for creating a transparent digital ecosystem that promotes trust and accountability between data producers and consumers.

In the context of data sovereignty, data control and protection are crucial for safeguarding the interests of individuals, organizations, and governments. When users have control over their data, they can determine who can access it, the conditions under which access is granted, and the purposes for which it can be used. Particularly, individuals can exercise control over their personal data, make informed decisions about sharing data, manage digital identities, and safeguard sensitive information from unauthorized access and manipulation. Therefore, it is essential to establish robust data control and protection measures - such as encryption, access control, and data anonymization - to ensure the overall security and well-being of internet users. These mechanisms help mitigate the risks of data breaches, identity theft, cyberattacks, and misuse of personal information. In summary, data control and protection build trust and security in the digital landscape, enabling safer data-driven activities for all stakeholders.

Data Sovereignty and EU Policies

The EU has established a robust data protection framework through the GDPR and the general European Strategy for Data, demonstrating its commitment to safeguarding citizen privacy. These regulations empower individuals with stronger control over their data, encourage data protection integration in organizations, and foster the development of innovative technologies. Through these frameworks, he EU aims to ensure greater control over personal data, responsible data management by organizations, and stricter obligations for data collection and processing.

An essential objective of the EU is to empower individuals through data rights, and the GDPR plays a vital role in achieving this goal. The GDPR grants individuals a range of rights that enable them to assert control over their personal data and sensitive information. These rights include the ability to access their data, obtain copies of it, correct inaccurate information, restrict or object to data processing, and be informed about data collection and use. By granting these data rights, individuals are empowered to make informed decisions about their privacy, exercise control over their digital identities, and hold organizations accountable for their data practices. Consequently, the EU not only empowers individuals with data rights but also reinforces the principle of data sovereignty, promotes individual autonomy and privacy, and rebalances power dynamics in the data ecosystem.

Challenges and considerations

First, striking a balance between asserting national control over data and facilitating global data flows is a significant challenge in data sovereignty. Governments and organizations face the task of protecting data sovereignty while promoting international collaboration, trade, and innovation. This requires developing mechanisms such as international data transfer agreements, data localization requirements, and mutual recognition frameworks. Harmonizing data protection practices and facilitating cross-border data flows necessitate establishing international standards and agreements.

Second, the rapid advancement of emerging technologies like AI, IoT, and blockchain brings both opportunities and challenges to data sovereignty. These technologies generate vast amounts of data and raise concerns regarding control, ownership, and privacy. Policymakers must navigate the complexities of emerging technologies and their intersection with data sovereignty principles to develop suitable frameworks.

Third, data sovereignty is closely tied to security and cybersecurity. Protecting data from unauthorized access and threats is crucial. Striking the right balance involves implementing strong data protection measures while upholding data control. Collaboration among governments, organizations, and cybersecurity experts is vital in developing effective security frameworks.

Navigating the challenges of data sovereignty requires addressing the balance between sovereignty and global data flows, understanding emerging technology impacts, and tackling security concerns. By doing so, policymakers, organizations, and individuals can shape a data-driven future that respects data sovereignty, privacy rights, fosters innovation, and ensures data system security and trust.


In conclusion, this article emphasizes the importance of data sovereignty in the digital age, particularly within the EU. It highlights how data sovereignty empowers individuals with control, protection, and accountability over their data. 

The EU has taken significant steps to promote data sovereignty through its comprehensive data protection frameworks, which are contributing to the creation of a resilient, competitive, and ethical data-driven future. 

To establish a robust and fair data ecosystem, it is crucial to address some challenges and considerations, including balancing data sovereignty with global data flows, accommodate the unique implications of emerging technologies and addressing security and cybersecurity concerns. 

Collaboration between governments, organizations, and individuals is essential, focusing on common standards, best practices, and digital literacy to empower individuals and ensure a collective commitment to data sovereignty. 

Ultimately, this article contributes to the ongoing discourse on shaping data governance frameworks in our interconnected world.