Digital sovereignty

Image: Panumas Nikhomkhai


Without converting the issue of digital sovereignty and data sovereignty into a political struggle, Brazil will soon be technologically outdated

The arrival of Evgeny Morozov to Brazil reinforced the positions of those who defend the importance of the State for the country's technological development. Evgeny Morozov managed to open the pages of traditional press newspapers to attack neoliberalism, the power of Big Techs and defend digital sovereignty.

The pages of the press have opened up to the European thinker, but remain closed to projects that show the advancement of data colonialism, as well as to initiatives for technological sovereignty. An example is the Educação Vigiada project, which has long reported that more than 72% of Brazilian higher education institutions have handed over the storage of their emails to Google and 8% to Microsoft.

Another silence from the so-called mainstream media outlets is consummated in the face of the delivery of data from federal public servants, civil and military, who use the chat on the federal government application called SouGov for IBM WATSON. Eight months after Bolsonaro's departure, when we enter the Terms of Use of the application used by more than 1 million employees and pensioners it is written: “Such storage aims to provide machine learning for the chat tool called 'Watson', where users' interactions in the chat are used for 'learning' by the computer that sends automatic responses when the user is being served through the SouGov service chat.”

The neoliberal press does not consider that the training of IBM's algorithmic systems with the interactions of federal employees is an example of unacceptable and high-risk dependence for Brazil. The National Data Protection Agency does not even deign to analyze the hosting of data from government members in a country with legislation incompatible with the LGPD. Furthermore, no one remembers Edward Snowden's allegations anymore. After all, who is this?

Interestingly, Evgeny Morozov's warning about the power of Big Techs and their control of crucial infrastructures in the digital landscape does not worry the same press when it receives a release that the São Paulo Court of Justice would implement an artificial intelligence system with Microsoft . Note that all processes and activities of the Court of the State with the largest economic activity in the country would be under the control of a North American company with diverse interests in the country. This same company is subject to the Cloud Act and other laws that require its loyalty to the interests of the North American State. "But it does not matter". “We believe in the contract.” It's a shame that researcher Jose Van Dijck didn't come to Brazil to say that this belief in the contract and Big Techs is dataism and is not empirically supported. A feather.

“We need scale.” “This development business is a free software thing” (SIC!). “Free software has been defeated.” “Linux only worked with Android because it’s from Google.” “We have the best.” With phrases like this, many of these public managers, media managers, YouTubers and opinion makers. At the same time, they say that data and digital technologies are fundamental.

At the same time, in a world where data is a high-value asset, they don't realize that our country can barely keep it on its territory. “It’s cheaper to use the cloud.” Yes it is true. Would it be interesting to try to reverse this process and structure a medium and long-term data sovereignty policy? “Oh. We don’t have time for that.” “We need to act.” “Technology is like a pen, we use the best one and that’s it.”

Meanwhile, Europe is experiencing an intense movement towards data localization that appears irreversible. In order not to lose the European market, Big Techs launched a product called Sovereign Cloud, sovereign cloud. They are already arriving with this solution in Brazil. But Big Techs combine two strategies. The first aims to postpone, if not defeat, the push for digital sovereignty. To this end, they rely on some media directors, columnists and neoliberal public managers.

The second involves launching the sovereign cloud product and continuing to keep the fundamental digital structures for Big Data and Artificial Intelligence in your hands. Oracle has already launched its “Sovereign Cloud” here: “a localized, secure and authorized cloud for sensitive and regulated workloads that meet regional requirements…”.

In the second half of 2022, still in the midst of the electoral dispute, approximately 600 researchers and activists launched the Digital Sovereignty Charter delivered to President Lula, still a candidate. The Charter began like this: “Digital technologies cannot serve to increase inequalities and the country’s dependence on big international capital”. It concluded with a set of proposals, none of which has been undertaken to date by the federal government. Here I highlight four of them:

“(i) Create a federated infrastructure to host data from Brazilian universities and research centers in accordance with our LGPD. (ii) Form, in this federated infrastructure, frameworks for Artificial Intelligence solutions, whether for the public or private sector. (iii) Encourage and finance the creation of data centers involving state governments, municipalities, public universities and non-governmental organizations, which allow maintaining data in our territory and applying Artificial Intelligence solutions that stimulate and benefit local and regional collective intelligence.

(iv) Promote the installation, at MCTI, of multidisciplinary teams to prospect technologies and experiments based on technodiversity as principles and seeking to promote advances in strategic areas for national development. In conjunction with the MEC, also promote the training of human resources by creating mechanisms for them to remain in the public sector in order to move us away from dependence on large corporations”.

Yes, they are proposals along the lines of what Evgeny Morozov called State action to build digital infrastructures. No, Evgeny Morozov did not invent the fight in which the State needs to face neoliberalism and bet on national collective intelligence. In Brazil, no action towards development and technological autonomy was accepted without a political struggle against the dominant classes that rule the country.

Brazil is in the United States' area of ​​geopolitical influence, called its backyard. For example, to build the Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional – fundamental for the industrialization of Brazil – we had an intense political struggle. Part of the ruling classes wanted to continue sending ore to the United States Steel Co. to import steel by paying ten times more.

Petrobras was only created after the “Oil is ours!” campaign. Don't forget that Mr. Roberto Campos was against the nationalization of Oil and against IT policy. Yes, Roberto Campos is the grandfather of the current president of the Central Bank. Recently, Michel Temer's government did everything it could to hand over the third largest aircraft manufacturing company in the world, Embraer, to the USA. Due to legal problems in Boeing's country, the deal was not made. After all, “why build planes? What matters is flying.”

Nothing indicates that we will cease to be a territory for data extraction and app creators if the State does not act. Without converting the issue of digital sovereignty – over socio-technical infrastructures – and data sovereignty into a political struggle, we will soon be technologically overtaken by countries that are experiencing political disputes over development and technodiversity.

If we are unable to create a powerful technopolitical movement, we will continue to be consumers of products and services created by automated systems based on the processing of data extracted from our population. The battles will be intense.

*Sergio Amadeu da Silveira is a professor at the Federal University of ABC. Author, among other books, of Free software – the fight for freedom of knowledge (Conrad).

Originally published on the website Other words.

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