European Digital Sovereignty: A Fight for All

By Jean-Noël de Galzain, Founder & CEO of WALLIX, expert in identity and access security solutions

We are in the midst of a digital revolution that is changing not only our habits but also our organizations and way of life. The year 2020, with the upheaval of a global health crisis, marks a turning point in digital transformation. More than ever before, lockdowns and restrictions have revealed our dependence on digital technology. Beyond regulatory issues, cyber security and cloud sovereignty represent a societal challenge.

We need to ask ourselves about the data protection we want to offer our citizens and consumers and the role we want to play in it. Do we want our personal data, in other words our digital identity, to be at the heart of commerce? If we ask the question differently, would you give your ID card to someone just for them to get rich by selling it? Of course not, and yet this is what happens every day when using a GAFAM service (i.e. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft). Europe must not become a digital colony; protecting digital identity must become an instinct. Preserving European sovereignty in the digital world is everyone’s business.

In this environment, we must imagine a digital Europe protected by a European cybersecurity industry. Shipping our personal data off to the United States or China, and becoming dependent on solutions that are beyond our control, is not inevitable. France, for example, is a haven for cybersecurity. It has companies that are experts in the field, with a competitive advantage in that they are fully aware of the importance of data protection. Europeans have the opportunity to become an international leader in this new digital age, and this requires cooperation between EU states.

This inter-state cooperation leads to regulations such as the laws on critical infrastructure protection (NIS) and data protection (GDPR). 2020 is a year to remember with the invalidation of the Privacy Shield, a law that allowed American companies to gather and repatriate European data en masse. The major European issue today is data, in particular its processing and hosting in Europe. We must unite around this issue, to create a trusted digital space for the benefit of users and organizations throughout the EU.

The key to this trusted digital space? Standardization and interoperability of cybersecurity and cloud solutions. We have a duty to offer solutions that are easy to implement and simple to use and that can be adapted to all existing digital tools. ENISA, the European Network and Information Security Agency of the European Union, was created in this vein. One of its objectives is the certification of cybersecurity offers at the European level so that, in the long term, we will have a single market of digital trusted players.

Data hosting is also a major challenge. We must stop the hemorrhaging of data to countries that trade in it. This is the objective of GAIA-X, a European public cloud project that offers an alternative to the American cloud providers: Google, Amazon and Microsoft. However, it must be borne in mind that only strong cybersecurity will make GAIA-X a trusted cloud. There must be the ability to secure access to data in the cloud and to manage users’ digital identities: who has access to what data, from where, and on what terminal. This is what we do at WALLIX. Consequently, the GAIA-X project brings together players from the cloud, but also from the software and cybersecurity industries, of which we are a part. Together we are building the European trusted digital space.

The final building block is the user. All these actions will be in vain if we do not develop a European digital culture that driven by the user. This user is you, me, your relatives, your children… Each of us must develop the reflex to protect the data that makes up our digital identities. We must be more careful about who we entrust that data to, and who we buy our digital tools from. The emergence of this culture depends on raising awareness. Within HEXATRUST, a French cybersecurity community, for example, we are working with the French National Education system to ensure that cyber risk will be understood and integrated by everyone from a very young age. It is also important to convey the idea, through this awareness, that digital technology represents jobs of the future, in which innovation is permanent and employment opportunities are rich.

Our digital identity is a reality. It is an integral part of us. We must regain control of it. To do this, there is only one solution: let us build a trusted European digital space, together, in which our digital identities and that of future generations will be secure.