RTG co-organized conference “Ethics of the Digital City – Challenge of Data Sovereignty”


On December 3, 2021, the public online conference “Ethics of the Digital City – Challenge of Data Sovereignty” took place. It was organized as a collaboration of LOEWE Center emergenCITY, RTG KRITIS, and our Research Training Group “Privacy and Trust for Mobile Users”. In six talks, topics of data sovereignty in digital cities were addressed.

Among others, RTG PI Prof. Dr. Gerrit Hornung discussed data sovereignty in the tension between data protection and data use in the context of the European plans for a Data Governance Act (1). RTG PostDoc Dr. Ephraim Zimmer spoke about privacy in digital cities and whether it is an utopia or tangible reality (2). The conference was concluded with closing remarks by RTG Spokesman Prof. Dr. Max Mühlhäuser.

(1) Abstract: In the interdisciplinary discussion, the term and concepts of data sovereignty often pursue the goal of bringing the economic and social opportunities of Big Data more to the fore by restricting the data protection principles of purpose limitation and data minimization. Whether this succeeds with the strong emphasis on informed and self-determined data release, however, is an open question. As a building block of an expanded data use strategy, the Data Governance Act proposes new instruments (such as data intermediaries) and regulations for trading in and economically exploiting data. These are promising approaches, but they require critical monitoring to ensure that they do not undermine important achievements of European data protection law.

(2) Abstract: With a (re)view of the digitization of other areas of life, the question of whether privacy in digital cities is a desirable and achievable goal is explored. The utopia is revealed in a comparison between the ideal notion of privacy with reality. However, a balanced discussion of what is technically feasible and what is privacy-desirable, as well as technical innovations and landmark decisions with regard to Digital Cities, also open up great opportunities. Does this make the topic of “privacy” tangible or does it move further into the distance?

What problems and opportunities accompany current debates in the European Union on reclaiming more data sovereignty? What regulations are needed for the economic use of data? Is privacy even a desirable goal in digital cities, and what are the technical limits? And how do local urban politics, digital infrastructures, and the ongoing reterritorialization of data shape the understanding of sovereignty?