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Marijn and I worked together for five years in the House of Representatives where I was a member of parliament for D66 between 2010 and 2021, and where Marijn served as the digital conscience of the group from 2015 onwards. We are now continuing our fight for a humane society in the digital age outside of politics. However, politics and policy still remain important perspectives here as well. Just like psychology and behavior, for that matter, since digital technology often -unconsciously- affects our brains. More about this in the columns to come!

Even though the year 2022 is already two weeks old, I am using this opening column in part to look back at the dynamic year of 2021 and to look forward to the exciting year that lies ahead of us.

With the coronavirus so rampant, the repeated lockdowns and heightened social tensions, 2021 was extremely turbulent. On January 15, 2021, the entire Rutte III cabinet resigned in response to the Dutch childcare benefits scandal, and on December 15, 2021, the VVD, D66, CDA and CU parties signed a new coalition agreement to form the basis for the Rutte IV cabinet. Last Monday, the brand-new cabinet finally stood on the steps of Parliament. In that respect, this column is starting at a very opportune time..

Keynote digital events

Before I pen my New Year’s resolutions for 2022, I’ll list the keynote digital events of 2021 for you. Then you will be up to speed right away.

Starting with the highlights:

  1. The installation of the new House of Representatives Committee on Digital Affairs. Although the enthusiastic MPs are still figuring out their roles, this political structure is crucial for a more mature debate on digital technology. For far too long, discussions about algorithms, data breaches or ICT projects were held in an incoherent fashion. With poor outcomes as a result.
  2. The digital paragraph in the new coalition agreement. At last there is some serious attention being paid to digitization! A special algorithm watchdog will be set up and serious steps will be taken in the areas of privacy, data protection and cybersecurity. Whether the promised implementation and the required financial resources will be given, we’ll have to wait and see.
  3. The efforts of the European Union to promote greater digital sovereignty (“strategic autonomy” in the words of French President Macron). With legislation such as the Digital Market Act and the Digital Services Act, the power of Big Tech is finally being curbed. Moreover, steps are being taken to counter the digital dominance of China and the US. This is high time, because the dependence in terms of 5G hardware and cloud services is starting to take on alarming proportions..

Incessant data fever

Unfortunately, there were also low points:

  1. Despite the lessons of the Benefits Affair, the problematic WGS (Data Processing Collaborations) data law is still not off the table. This allows for disproportionate exchange and processing of data files. The cabinet also wants to give more digital powers to security organizations like the Dutch Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the National Cyber Security Agency (NCTV). By doing this, the government is steadily scrutinizing the lives of its citizens, which is at odds with the rule of law. It could well be that Marijn will revisit this subject next month!
  2. No Minister of Digital Affairs. As many as four additional ministers will be appointed, including one for nitrogen. But for ‘Digitalization’ there could only be half a Secretary of State. A missed opportunity. Because major issues such as data use on the part of the government, the future of the digital infrastructure and the ever-increasing disruption caused by disinformation, polarization or even intimidation are crying out for clear frameworks and more governance.
  3. The immature discussion about digital infrastructure. The arrival of the Facebook data center painfully exposed the fact that both the House of Representatives and the Senate are letting the underbelly speak most of all where digital infrastructure is concerned. By this I mean the system of undersea cables, regional data centers and fiber optic networks that are needed to make mass homeschooling and online meetings possible in these times of corona. I don’t care about Facebook but if we all use more data, more (regional) data centers will be needed.

Also read: These three things are crucial for the energy transition to succeed

Digital sustainability

Having said that, from this beautiful place, I would like to wish us something for the coming year that I would sum up with the term “digital sustainability. By this I mean thoughtful, substantiated, coherent and therefore future-proof policies as the basis for a healthy digital transformation and a humane society in the digital age.

I sincerely hope that the new house of representatives in general and the new secretary of state for Digitalization in particular will start working on this in the coming year. In cooperation with civil rights organizations, scientists, companies and information professionals.

I will keep track of it for you and for now, wish you all a sustainable digital 2022.