Julia Rone

Postdoctoral researcher at the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at CRASSH, University of Cambridge
Julia Rone is a postdoctoral researcher at the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at CRASSH, University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on the dilemmas of digital sovereignty and the democratization of trade and tech governance. She has written extensively also on protest movements, hacktivism and digital disobedience. Julia is the author of Contesting Free Trade and Austerity in the EU: Protest Diffusion in Complex Media and Political Arenas (Routledge, 2021), as well as of journal articles in New Media & Society, Journal of Common Market Studies, Comparative European Politics, and Social Movement Studies, among others.
Talk: Democratizing Decision-making on Cloud Infrastructure in the EU
The “Cloud” has become a vital infrastructure of our contemporary society with both states and private companies increasingly investing in the digitalization of the economy. At the same time, while democratic participation in decision-making over other types of public infrastructure (such as roads or power plants) has become the norm over the past decades, there is still little acknowledgement of the need to include representative institutions, civil society and citizens in decisions over digital infrastructure. Such an omission could be explained to some extent by the sheer novelty of digital infrastructure and the fast-pace of data centre construction.

Still, governments are increasingly catching up. In the past couple of years, there has been a flurry of regulatory and industrial policy proposals on “digital sovereignty” at both the EU and the EU member state level. Such proposals have gone hand-in-hand with the concentrated entry into the European market of US cloud companies such as Microsoft Azure, AWS or Google Cloud. Both these developments have not remained uncontroversial. This report presents and analyses two key case studies of resistance to cloud infrastructure projects: in France, there has been strong opposition by both business and civil society to storing national health data on Microsoft Azure's cloud. And in the Netherlands, citizens of two provinces have strongly opposed the construction of new data centres on their land.

This report argues that in the context of expanding digital infrastructure and policies to govern it, governments and policy makers cannot and should not ignore the popular element of democratic sovereignty. Fostering democratic oversight and accountability as well as considering citizens’ views on developing cloud infrastructure can help avoid various controversies over cloud infrastructure projects and improve digital sovereignty policies’ legitimacy and acceptance by citizens.