Brussels Workshop: Defining a Digital Social Contract

The Aspen Institute Germany, the Atlantic Council, and the Internet Economy Foundation organized the first Brussels workshop of their project on the Transatlantic Digital Agenda, at the Baden-Württemberg Representation on September 26 and 27, 2017. The project aims to explore how the shared values at the heart of the established transatlantic partnership should be transposed into effective policy for this digital age. 

The Brussels Workshop offered a platform for the confrontation of the fundamental questions: “Should there be a digital social contract? If so, what should be in it?” In this context, we rooted our discussion of digital policy in the values of the Enlightenment to debate ways to guarantee that digital transformation reinforces free trade, free markets and free peoples.


Within this general outline, the discussions covered the following topics:

Day 1, 14.30 – 18.00, Baden-Württemburg Representation, Rue Belliard 60-62, 1000 Brussels

Session One ― Democracy in the Hyper-Digital Age: How do we guarantee that the digital transformation always has the “consent of the networked” and that does not erode – but strengthens – trust in democracy, facts, rule of law, human rights, openness and our shared institutions?

Session Two ― Digital Security: How do we guarantee that national security, safety, personal privacy and self-determination of personal data remain mutually reinforcing social goals?

Coffee Break

Session Three ― Regulating for Democracy and Innovation: What role should states play in guaranteeing competitive, innovative and open digital marketplaces? Do the U.S. and Europe have compatible philosophies of regulation? How are these philosophies challenged by the digital era and how are they changing? How should we think about the instruments to regulate platforms, social media, the cloud, AI and the internet of things?

19.30 – 21.30, Maison du Cygne, Grand Place 9, 1000 Brussels

High-Level Dinner. This dinner featured Commissioner Maryia Gabriel as keynote speaker who initiated a broad discussion on the EU’s role in bridging the gap at home and globally to create a fair, competitive digital market followed by a group discussion about whether and how they can be applied through values-driven digital governance going forward.

Day 2, 9.00 – 12.00, Baden-Württemburg Representation, Rue Belliard 60-62, 1000 Brussels

Session Four ― The Future of Work: Digitally-Driven Prosperity? Are we positioning ourselves to guarantee that the digital century will enable dignified work, an equitable distribution of productivity gains from innovations like automation, AI and cloud computing and a sense of inclusive growth? How are policy-makers working to guarantee the future of dignified work or will we see back-lash populism and social unrest?

Session Five ― Creating a Digital International Order: How do we guarantee that the Internet remain open and unencumbered by protectionism and digital sovereignty? Where do you see best and worst practices in the effort to preserve an open Internet? How do we ensure that rule-of-law remains the norm in the digital world, so that technology – which is neutral – is used more often for positive than negative aims? We should not be naïve, but can we create international norms and legal constraints, as in the Geneva Conventions, that guide behavior in the digital space and create penalties for those who cross those lines?

Coffee Break

Session Six ― Global Security and Fight against Terrorism: Is the price of connectivity eternal vigilance? The US and Europe have called upon ISPs and tech companies to work with governments to prevent, pursue and prosecute terrorism. Should there be the limits of cooperation between governments and digital companies in this fight? Where does the balance lie and how can it be credibly established and maintained?


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