New digital technologies enable creativity, connect the world, and provide public goods and essential services. They also challenge conventional notions of privacy, facilitate crime, and enable surveillance and oppression.
To which end these data-driven technologies are used is determined by political, corporate, societal, and individual choices. Liberal democracies struggle to strike the right balance between privacy and business interests, as well as freedom and national security. Unencumbered by such dilemmas, authoritarian governments pursue absolute state control over data in the name of “information security.” With two billion new – mostly non-Western – users expected to go online in the coming years and rising political and economic stakes, contests over global rules for technologies and data transfers across jurisdictions will only continue to heat up.
We aim to make a contribution toward sound political, corporate, and societal choices through research, policy advice, and the fostering of strategic communities. Our work draws on GPPi’s cross-disciplinary insights into rising powers, peace and security, innovation in development, and human rights.
The Politics of Regulation
Policymakers are looking for ways to deal with the influence of foreign intelligence agencies (mostly American, Chinese and Russian) and technology companies. In Europe, this led to a variety of proposals to regain “technological sovereignty.” Together with the Open Technology Institute & the Cybersecurity Initiative at New America, we found that many proposals are unlikely to deliver on their promise.
Liberal democracies appear to struggle with restraining their own services. In commentaries on a new German data retention bill and the reform of Germany’s federal intelligence service, we argued that opaque executive action does not increase national security.
Similar tug-of-wars are apparent in discussions over encryption technologies, which secure devices and communications data but also challenge law enforcement agencies’ access to information. By advancing a debate on the issue in Germany and Europe, we aim to find ways to preserve the ability of government agencies to investigate serious crimes while protecting the privacy and security of citizens.
Trust in digital infrastructures is crucial, and cybersecurity should be a priority on national and international agendas. In two reports, we examined the role that computer security incident response teams (CSIRTs) – teams of technical experts that protect network and systems security – play in national and international cybersecurity policy. Given their increasing prominence, we urged decision-makers to keep CSIRTs out of politics, and Germany specifically to establish an independent national team.
Building on our research on CSIRTs, we wrote a study for the German Federal Foreign Office on how to support cybersecurity capacity building (CCB) more broadly. CCB is crucial to mitigating the negative cross-border externalities of increasing connectivity and maximizing the benefits of ICT-led development. We argue that Germany and its partners need to act to transform cybersecurity from an afterthought into an integral part of expanding connectivity.
Individuals should not be overlooked when it comes to safeguarding online security and privacy. “Obscure Me: A Toolbox For Online Privacy” aims to empower users. It provides an introduction to threats that users encounter online as well as hands-on solutions that can help each of us protect our information.
Building Strategic Communities
The challenges created by rapid digitalization require an open, ongoing debate among people with different perspectives and interests. We need to look beyond our own sector or country to craft solutions regarding business regulation and government access to information, especially since any approaches will rarely be of a domestic nature alone.
Building such strategic communities lies at the heart of the Transatlantic Digital Debates, a fellowship program that GPPi launched in 2016 in cooperation with New America. During the program, 18 young professionals from Germany and the US – representing the private sector, the public sector, civil society and academia – meet in both the US and Germany to engage experts in discussions on issues such as innovation, regulation of the digital economy, cybersecurity and privacy.
Data governance is one of three topics that fellows discuss as part of the Global Governance Futures 2027 program (GGF 2027). GGF 2027 brings together young professionals from Germany, China, Japan, India and the US to use scenario planning to devise projections of the future that policymakers need to prepare for. In the previous GGF 2025 round, another working group considered alternative futures for internet governance in the year 2025.
by Graham Webster, Niklas Kossow
Transatlantic Digital Debates 2017
by Mirko Hohmann, Alexander Pirang
Council on Foreign Relations
by Thorsten Benner, Mirko Hohmann
by Mirko Hohmann, Alexander Pirang, Thorsten Benner