Democratising Digital Sovereignty: The Regulation of Data Centres’ Construction

9 June 2021, 12:30 - 14:00

Online

The seminars provided a supportive, intellectually stimulating environment in which to share work and receive feedback from people in various disciplines.
– Chana Morgenstern (Early Career Fellow in Michaelmas 2018)

 

Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work-in-Progress Seminar Series. All welcome but please email fellowships@crassh.cam.ac.uk to book your place and to request readings. 

Dr Julia Rone 

In recent years, there has been a boom of data centre construction by small and big tech companies in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland. These countries have become increasingly popular locations for data centres thanks to their cool climate, stable institutions, and crucially – accessible green energy. The construction of data centres has accordingly been represented by governments, tech companies, and media as a win-win situation helping local communities to develop by creating new jobs and attracting investment. Thus, for years, new data centre projects have remained uncontroversial and uncontested “success stories”. Nevertheless, in the last few years there has been an unprecedented politicization of data centre construction, with local communities increasingly challenging narratives of job growth and green tech. This paper’s goal is to map and analyse different initiatives for democratic discussion and decision-making on data centres’ construction at the level of local and regional councils but also national parliaments. 

This research is meant as part of a broader call to rethink the relation between tech and democracy and to challenge the dominant narrative (pushed by tech industries) that law and politics cannot catch up with technological developments. Instead, I aim to show that there are already multiple initiatives for democratic participation in tech regulation that go beyond the classic self-regulatory and multi-stakeholder models.  Triangulating data from media analysis, parliamentary documents’ analysis and interviews with activists and politicians, I trace the key demands and fault-lines in the politicization of data centres that have moved from being invisible infrastructures to being at the centre of key debates on the environmental impact of big tech, democracy and the future of tech governance.

Dr Julia Rone is a Postdoctoral Researcher with the Minderoo project at CRASSH.

Julia has spent the last decade doing research on politics and the utopias and dystopias of digital media. Before joining CRASSH, she was a Wiener-Anspach postdoctoral researcher for the project “Conflicts of Sovereignty in a European Union in crisis” at the Université libre de Bruxelles and the University of Cambridge. She focused in particular on sovereignty conflicts around Brexit and free trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP. Julia holds a PhD in social and political science from the European University Institute in Florence and an MSc degree from the Oxford Internet Institute, which she pursued thanks to a Dulverton scholarship. She has taught at the University of Sofia, the University of Florence and the University of Dusseldorf, and since 2019 has also been supervising BA students in Cambridge.