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Citizenship and standard-setting in digital networks

Co-designing for public values in standards-making and governance

While deeply woven into our everyday life, digital infrastructure—from network switches to public administration databases—is typically invisible to users. The process of standard-making, in particular, remains a blind spot.

Standardization describes and uniforms a set of criteria, often of a technical nature, the associated practices and methods enabling the interoperability of networks and datasets. Standards thus mediate societal life, thus our ability to enact our citizenship and enjoy human rights in the digital age. Straddling computer science, sociology, law, and media studies, this project investigates standard-making in relation to democratic values and practices. It asks how the public sphere is governed today through the standardization of the digital and how to support societal values in the creation of standards. Specifically, it looks at standard-making as a sociotechnical practice, analyzing technology development and implementation, the related governance arrangements and legal aspects.

This project investigates three cases of national relevance and global breadth:

  1. the development and implementation of 5th generation (5G) cellular mobile communication.
  2. the development of cybersecurity standards for the Internet of Things, and
  3. identity management standards (e.g., DigID).

In so doing, the project contributes to illuminating the “wiring” of values (or lack thereof) into technical standards, the relation and the balance of power between a variety of public (e.g., states) and private actors (e.g., the industry, consumers), informal lawmaking and multistakeholder governance mechanisms. It will result in the co-design of mechanisms for technology and governance, and in standards which are “value- and rights-respecting by design”.