Democracy and digital rights


How is technology impacting on democracy and the effective protection of individual rights? Do legislative and rights frameworks need to be revised to fit the digital age? Should rights be protected in the online and offline environments in the same way? Challenges such as the ethical use of data and Artificial Intelligence, fake news or the geopolitical dimension of technology are testing democratic systems around the world and affecting the way people understand and trust institutions. These challenges and their possible solutions were addressed in the third debate of the cycle "Towards a human-centric digitalisation", under the title "Democracy and digital rights". 

Casa de América became the meeting point where José María Lasalle (professor and former Secretary of State for the Digital Agenda), Susana Malcorra (former Argentinean Foreign Minister and former head of the UN Secretary General's cabinet) and Christoph Steck (Director of Public Policy and Internet at Telefónica), moderated by Natalia Chientaroli (editor-in-chief of, discussed about the impact of digitalisation on democracy.



With a geopolitical viewpoint, Susana Malcorra pointed out that digital reality provides three fundamental elements that affect us:

  • Systems that offer us previously unsuspected capacities to communicate and make our lives easier.
  • A technology that is increasingly integrated and interconnected, thanks to advances such as the Internet of Things.
  • A quantifiable society, through the enormous amount of data we produce daily.

In this sense, José María Lasalle pointed out that technology is providing us with one of the most fruitful times in history in terms of progress and development, despite certain "negative externalities" that are accompanying the changes. Among these externalities, the lack of capacity of States to exercise their sovereignty and the existence of large technological oligopolies that are concentrating great power are of particular concern. Inevitably, uncertainty and mistrust of institutions arise in such a dystopian environment.

This is the reason why different voices are proposing what we, at Telefónica, call a "New Digital Deal" to put people at the centre and at the origin of the changes and to return democratic control to the digital transition.



To explore this aspect further, Christoph Steck explained that we are at a time of digital transition as relevant in scale and impact as the energy transition. For this reason, the efforts dedicated to reducing the risks associated with this technological revolution should be equal to those we are making to mitigate climate change. In fact, these are the two axes that structure the discourse of the newly elected European Commission and those that will mark the future of society in the coming years.


"We do not need new values, but a new application of values for the digital world", Christoph Steck


This New Digital Deal also implies an urgent review of the legislative and rights frameworks to bring them into line with the digital age. "We have to be able to legally imagine what digital rights we need to protect human beings from the evolution of technology and this requires legal imagination," Lasalle said.

This revision of the legislative and rights frameworks needs collaboration and consensus among the different actors who impact and are impacted by the digital revolution. The debate is fundamental in order to define together what are the rules, principles and standards we want for this new digital world.

Do not miss out this interview with Christoph Steck on Radio Nacional de España to continue deepening this debate!