Ground Rules for a Sustainable Digitalization

(1)  Digitalization must serve the common good within the planetary boundaries. Therefore, it can only be sustainable if it is decoupled from the exploitation of people and planet, and does not further promote 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 based in global democratic discourse. Along with this comes the fundamental understanding that digitalization is not something completely new per se, or a break in our social, economic and political lives, but follows trends that have been ongoing for decades.

(2)  In any case, technical advancements have to serve humanity and be embedded in the protection of fundamental and human rights, rule of law and democratic principles. This is very much the case for the digital world as well. Governments and private actors have to be hold accountable to this.

(3)  Digital technologies can be tools for massive surveillance, with the power to silence free speech and freedom of information. They are also the basis for an ever growing business model. 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 maxime 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.

(4)  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 understood as a fundamental human right as it often is 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 be committed 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)  Net neutrality should be stipulated by law to guarantee free and fair sharing of content online.

(3)  When it comes to developing state-led digital strategies, all stakeholders need to be involved – including the non-commercial sector. These strategies need to relevant for the wider public and not just select 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 rather support decentralized, citizen-based projects.

(4)  Removal of hate speech and violation of terms of use in social media is currently overwhelmingly being handled by people in the Global South – often this means having to review graphic and violent content for hours. There needs to be proper protection and support of content removers, including a global discussion on how to not leave them behind in a digital world.

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. This is leading to an increasing centralization of agricultural skills and knowledge. Digital technologies such as precision-farming have become a new field of investment for these corporations. Simultaneously, 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 ensured 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. Any governmental summit on digitalization has to equally factor in the expertise and interests of all relevant groups and stakeholders, and must focus on political, social and environmental rather than economic aspects of digitalization.

(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 to decrease the energy use of IT and communication technology are urgently needed. Political decision-makers have to push for this and implement effective legislation. For Europe, one element would be the extension of the EU ecodesign directive and energy efficiency labeling. The reform of the EU Energy Labeling Directive has to include to the energy label additional criteria such as life span, reparability, and access to spare parts. Future regulation should prohibit glued-in batteries or accumulators in electronic devises in order to ensure users to freely and autonomously replace them. Lack of repairability and free exchange of spare parts should be clearly defined and labeled as a construction flaw.

(3)  The interlinkage between decentralized renewable energies and decentralized internet infrastructure should 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, 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 the work place of a digital world, we suggest a reduction of working hours down to 35-30 hours a week with a minimum of 30 vacation days. Freelancers 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. Similarly, we need an abolition of exceptions from minimum wage on fixed-term contracts. 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 each company. Introducing efficiency or behavior controls, such as Amazon’s 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)  IT companies can offer space for social and economic activities, create a sense of belonging to a greater global community and contribute to the cultivation of an alternative public space. However, this freedom is weakened or constraint by unregulated collection, nontransparent use and dissemination as well as monetization of data. 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 – also in the case of digital companies. The level of influence of big IT companies has to be uncovered and limited substantially.

(5)  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 necessary strengthening of tax bodies and international tax cooperation within the EU and in an open and democratic UN institution. Part of this is effective regulation, automatic information exchange between tax bodies of different countries and regions, and the fight against corruption, money laundering and tax evasion by implementing transparency requirements and information disclosure obligations. Transparency in the international financial system has to be strengthened, for instance through country-by-country reporting of companies. Within the EU, standard minimum rates for tax on earnings have to be introduced, making sure they are water-tight against future tax evasion attempts.

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

(1)  The safety of IT-systems has to be ensured. Private and public infrastructure has to be better protected by among other things a security by design regulation of IT technology. Governments and companies need to adequately protect citizens and customers of 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)  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.

(3)  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.