CeBIT: New Masters of the Universe Ask Big Questions of Security and Trust

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CeBIT: New Masters of the Universe Ask Big Questions of Security and Trust

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CeBIT is a big, serious conference so it was perhaps unsurprising that (alongside the gadgets and pole-dancing robots) there were some big, serious questions asked. These tended to centre on the relationship between ICT and its effects on security, privacy and the ways we govern and defend our world. Where once, such conferences were all about bits and bytes, the currency of technology has inflated to such an extent that you could hardly find bigger topics.

German premier Angela Merkel said: “The more automatic and self-evident using the internet becomes, the more trust one has to be able to place in the products from the ICT industry that one uses.”

Quite so, but as we all recognise, the wheel’s still in spin. We don’t know what the new Masters of the Universe will do with the findings from their non-stop granular inspections of our activities and we don’t know how powerbrokers of the future will think and act. Neither do we know to what extent people in the future will place a value on such detailed information.

You could easily view Frau Merkel’s comments as a dig at the likes of Google which fielded executive chairman Eric Schmidt as a speaker, a matter of days after the company documented its controversial new privacy policy. Schmidt predicted that the internet would in some ways sand down the importance of nationhood because the internet will create a “network of minds that’s evolving into a global conscience”. This would be a “wonderful, wonderful thing to think about”, he said, presumably to the sound of John Lennon singing Imagine.

Of course, the fear many have is that the internet is becoming a new kingdom and one where the rules are being written on the hoof and legislature in its traditional form is failing to create a timely system of checks and balances.

And what of security in a time when malicious attacks can compromise critical infrastructure?

Eugene Kaspersky of security software leader Kaspersky Labs called for “an International Cyber-Security Organization which would act as an independent global platform for international cooperation and treaties on non-usage of cyber-weapons”. This body would also be “responsible for investigating incidents and combating cyber-terrorism”.

It sounds laudable enough but what guarantees can there be of independence when every major international body gets subverted in the interests of the most powerful?

Who is more important: the leader of Google or the leader of Europe’s biggest economy? Where does technology end and society begin? What’s most valuable: data or oil? Once upon a time we might have had a fair attempt at answering these questions. Today, they are impossible conundrums.

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