Ground Rules for a Sustainable Digitalization

(1) A healthy environment and planet, the protection of human rights and a good life for all are more important than digitalization.

(2) Digitalization is nothing new per se, let alone a break in our social, economic and political lives, but follows trends that have been ongoing for decades. To be  sustainable, digitalization must serve the common good within the planetary boundaries. It has to be decoupled from the exploitation of people and planet. This can only be achieved if digitalization does not promote further deregulation and privatization, or the growth of a few all-powerful state and corporate monopolies. In order to be truly relevant for all, digitalization has to be anchored in global democratic discourses.

(3) The non-digital world must continue to exist freely. Not everything that can should be connected. Not everyone and every place has to be part of the digital development.

(4) Any technical and digital advancements have to serve humanity and subject to fundamental and human rights, rule of law and democratic principles. Governments and private actors need to be hold accountable.

(5) Digital technologies can be tools for mass surveillance, with the power to silence free speech and freedom of information. They are also the basis for an ever growing business model. Thus, the control of data has to lie with people providing the data. Governments and international or regional institutions, such as the EU, have a responsibility to protect the rights, privacy, self-determination and autonomy of its citizens and ensure a free basic democratic order. Governments and corporations must follow the principle of data minimization. Governments have to prosecute offences against data privacy violations by commercial enterprises and government intuitions. Data-driven business models need to be regulated properly.

(6) Even in a tech- and algorithm-based world, responsibilities of decisions must always lie with and be controlled by humans. In order to ensure sovereignty of decisions and self-determination of individuals we need to have transparency on commercially and state-run technology, and especially on algorithms. We need public discussion on what happens once algorithms excel human comprehension both in ethical and legal terms as well as in terms of responsibilities of governments and private entities.

SDG 1 and SDG 10 — End poverty in all its forms everywhere and reduce inequality within and among countries

(1) Access to the internet should be a fundamental human right as it is often the basis for cultural and political participation. We need policies for free, equal and affordable access to the internet for all to be developed with users and concerned parties. Governments have to commit to a just distribution of digital resources. At the same time, digital skills or access to the internet cannot be a condition or requirement for full participation in society, politics or economies.

(2) When it comes to developing state-led digital strategies, all stakeholders need to be involved. These strategies need to be relevant for the wider public and not just selected groups. Collaboration between governments and IT-companies for public digital development have to be transparent and monitored by relevant actors, in order to prevent further commercialization of data, expansion of monopolies and limitations of democratic principles such as freedom of information. Governments should support decentralized, citizen-based projects.

SDG 2 — End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

(1) Globally, a decreasing number of corporations controls food production and distribution, leading to a growing centralization of agricultural skills and knowledge. Digital technologies such as precision-farming have become a new field of investment for these corporations. At the same time, IT-companies are entering the food sector. In order to ensure sustainable, people-centered food systems, governments have to limit market shares controlled by single corporations and create and implement legal instruments to dissolve agricultural oligopolies. Digital genetic information should not be a tradeable good. Intellectual property rights of agricultural knowledge as well as respective data have to lie with peasants, farmers, farming communities the landless, nomadic communities and indigenous peoples.

(2) Digital farming technologies must serve the farmers, support them in their daily life and not create further structures of dependence. A cooperation between farmers and digital experts based on open source technologies should be strengthened and supported.

(3) A non-digital kind of agriculture, with agro-ecological farming methods, peasant seed systems, free access to and exchange of seeds, local markets with public infrastructure and a democratic food system, has to continue to exist
and be guaranteed eg. by governments.

SDG 3 — Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

(1) Investments in the health sector must first and foremost be directed towards realizing key demands of employees and trade unions such as decent pay and work, as well as a fair, accessible, and affordable health sector.

(2) Use of (Big) Data in health and care sectors has to be regulated and monitored. Online services in the health sector have to follow the highest security standards with offline options remaining in place. In health and care facilities, the protection of privacy has to be ensured by applying high data protection standards. Commercializing patient data has to be prohibited. The use of data must not lead to deterioration in insurance services. Limited capabilities to agree on the use of digital services must not be abused.

(3) Digital Services, such as care robots or communication and management software, have to service staff and patients, and not lead to even more work and financial pressure in health and care facilities. They have to be developed and applied in collaboration with staff, patients and relatives and respect patient’s rights and dignity.

(4) The responsibility and final decision on medical procedures must always lie with humans. Transparency on digital measures and algorithms has to always be a priority and be accessible to patients and relatives with opting-out options.

SDG 4 — Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

(1) Public projects and programs on digitalization should focus on overcoming the digital divide. Their purpose has to be to increase capabilities of all citizens and public institutions in e.g. data protection or virtual communication as well as to provide the basis for an inclusive discussion on possibilities and risks of technologies and the digital world.

(2) Governments, companies, schools and other institutes have to ensure the protection of children’s data based on international ethical standards. IT-companies should refine tools, eg. password protections, age verification, filter or access granting, in order for parents to create an appropriate online environment for children.

(3) Teaching digital skills and supplying schools with digital equipment can be one element of a modern education system. However, lack of digital technology is in most cases not the most urgent issue of schools and other educational institutions. Funds and resources have to be allocated considering the needs of students for a proper and
rights-based education.

(4) Ethics, sustainability and humans rights need to be compulsory subjects in computer science, informatics and other IT education.

(5) Public institutions and agencies have to urgently increase their digital literacy and better understand the role and impact of technology, software and algorithms, and of proper regulation. E-Government has to serve the people. This also includes the improving online accessibility of official documents and information, as well as strict regulation on the use of citizen’s and non-citizen’s data.

(6) Publicly financed science, their outcomes and content must be openly accessible and not be patent-protected. Publicly relevant data such as statistical records, weather data, geographical data and maps, satellite pictures and more should be open access even if they are not publicly financed. Cooperation between science, civil society, governments, companies and media on issues concerning digitalization has to be improved and supported.

SDG 5 — Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

(1) In the work place, access to new digital technology and the design of flexible work hours and types must include gender sensitive measures and be in the interest of all the staff.

(2) Any developments leading to gender or otherwise based discrimination has to be properly regulated. This is especially the case for crowd-working platforms in the services sector. Standards of decent work must not be undermined by new work forms. Proper control and guidelines for platform economies is urgently needed.

SDG 6 — Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

(1) Digital technologies can help improve water infrastructure in many ways, including its collection, transport, cleaning, use and monitoring. Guiding principle for any integration of digital technology in the water sector has to be to make water provision sustainable, high-quality, socially just and economically viable.

(2) Digital technologies must not bring a further push for liberalization or privatization of water provision or disposal, limit the right to water or lead to a rise in prices of water services. Their use should be sufficiently regulated and prohibited if need be.

SDG 7 and 13 — Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all and Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

(1) First and foremost, we need an immediate fossil fuel phase-out. Digital policies, new digital research fields and economic interests should not obscure this political necessity. Similarly, nuclear energy is not a clean energy source and no alternative to fossil-based energy production. A sustainable digitalization can only be based on efficient, clean, fair, accessible, decentralized renewable energies.

(2) National, regional and global strategies and effective legislation to decrease the energy use of IT and communication technology are urgently needed. This includes ecodesign policies and comprehensive energy efficiency labeling. Future regulation should prohibit glued-in batteries or accumulators in electronic devises in order to ensure users to freely and autonomously replace them.

(3) The interlinkage between decentralized renewable energies and decentralized internet infrastructure has to be supported and expanded.

(4) Big IT-companies carry a social, ecological and economical responsibility to fight climate change. IT-companies have to move to 100% renewable energy in the next years, improve their energy efficiency and transparently disclose the source of their energy supply.

SDG 8 — Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

(1) In order to prevent an increase of unemployment due to changes in a digital world’s work place, we suggest a reduction of working hours down to 35-30 hours a week with a minimum of 30 vacation days. Freelancers and contract workers need to get the same social protection as the regular work force. Proper regulation of temporary work and contracted services need to be introduced and implemented. There should be no exceptions from minimum wage. This is especially important for platform economies.

(2) Clear rules and rights for unavailability and conditions for a healthy work-life balance need to be established in every company. Introducing efficiency or behavior controls, such as inactivity protocols, have to be prohibited. To counter cutback on labor standards, staff associations should be a requirement.

(3) Any introduction of new technologies in a company has to follow proper staff participation processes. This includes clearly stating their usage, goals, details of software etc. and appropriate staff training.

(4) A free and fair internet needs space and competition for alternative, non-commercial, non-monopolistic products. Therefore, antitrust and competition laws have to be rigorously applied – including in the case of digital companies. IT and digital companies have to pay taxes where they generate revenue. Effective measures against tax evasion and fraud have to be applied nationally and internationally, including the strengthening of tax bodies and international tax cooperation within the EU and in an open and democratic UN institution.

SDG 9 — Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

(1) IT-systems have to be safe, thus private and public infrastructure has to be better protected by i.a. a security by design regulation of IT-technology. Governments and companies need to adequately protect citizens and customers against malware and hacker attacks. Not everything that can be connected to the internet should and has to be. In order to not endanger the right to privacy and freedom of the internet, decisions on internet safety measures have to be justified publicly or towards democratically elected decision-makers.

(2) Net neutrality should be protected by law to guarantee free and fair sharing of content online.

(3) When it comes to new technologies, such as blockchain, questions concerning access or design for e.g. human and civil rights, the protection of data, abidance to laws and regulations, responsibilities, as well as its environmental footprint need to be in the center of any discussion. Therefore, governments have to become more knowledgeable, act faster, and not be primarily guided by economic criteria.

(4) Dependence of public institutions on big IT-companies is a troublesome misuse of public money, a problematic interpretation of competition and procurement laws and often a safety issue. Public money should only be used for open source programs.

(5) Algorith-based technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), has proven to exhibit biased outcomes due to the underlying data or social context. Human judgment is still needed to ensure AI supported decision making is fair. If needed, AI development and usage have to be subjected to much more rigorous public discourse and proper regulation in order to ensure its usage for the common good. The public interest should always be the main driver for public funding of AI. To ensure this, only open source software AI projects should be publicly funded.