Will you sleep safer tonight?

Looking at a scenario through three different lenses highlights the conflict and complexity of the emergent issues impacting national and international information security policy.

Hacking stealing password data
Thinkstock

He’s a bad man and he’s running, but there’s nowhere to hide. From alley to alley, from camera to camera, his movements are live streamed to police HQ. The police cars are honing in, his geo-location pinpointed. Image recognition software scored a home run tonight – he was on “the list,” and now he’s off the streets.

Finding him was a breeze, even whilst “off the grid.” Our algorithms had already profiled and predicted his patterns – it helps that he shared his thoughts, friends, preferences and places so openly. We’ve accessed his travel records, his emails and cleared his home of every shred of documentation. It took no time to pick him up, ship him out, and close him down.

So, will you sleep safer tonight? 

He is a terrorist

He’d received information from within the corridors of power, corrupt sources supporting his destructive mission. He was scheming and manipulative in pursuit of his ideology. But we have shut him down, you’ll hear no more of his twisted thoughts. So, will you sleep safer tonight?

Let’s reframe this.

He is an activist

He’d received and published information from a government whistle-blower. He’s angry and arrogant and maybe you don’t like him much. But we have shut him down, you’ll hear no more of his compromised disclosures. So, will you sleep safer tonight?

And reframe, one more time.

He is a journalist

He is bound by professional ethics whilst servicing a reputable media outlet. He’s received and published information from a government whistle-blower. He’s on a mission to uphold government accountability. But we have shut him down, you’ll hear no more of his challenge to this constitutional democracy. So, will you sleep safer tonight?

Looking at one scenario through these three different lenses highlights the conflict and complexity of the emergent issues impacting national and international information security policy. This scenario addresses the conflicting interplay between privacy, security, censorship, freedom and surveillance and how that interplay changes depending on the lens.

Will you advocate for pervasive surveillance if it will save us from another 9/11?  Or will you advocate for maximum privacy if it will prevent the exploitation of personal data, at the cost of national security? Cryptographic backdoors, yes or no?  Cameras to keep you safe?  Or, cameras to track you down?  The debates are many and only just warming up.

One example of how this complexity is playing out on the international stage can be seen in the challenging role of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the premier internet open standards body. The IETF, is on a mission to define technical standards that ‘make the internet work better’. The question is, an internet that works better for whom?  Who is the principle stakeholder?  Should the IETF specify standards to enable or inhibit third party eavesdropping. Should the IETF seek to preserve end user privacy over pervasive surveillance?  I guess it depends on your lens.

Taking a step further onto the international stage, we see the complex interplay developing between many other cyberspace issues of geo-political significance. We see disinformation and foreign interference emerge within democratic electoral processes, battles over data sovereignty, battles over internet sovereignty, a dark web trafficking everything from ideology and weaponry to human lives.  Cyberspace itself is now a global battlefield in which we can neutralise the weaponry of another nation state, kill its critical infrastructure, or swing its electoral vote. Alternatively, cyberspace is a medium that unites us, builds communities and drives our visions towards a common good.

In January 2019, H.R.739 – Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 was introduced to the US House of Representatives by Representatives Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Eliot Engel (D-NY). The bill (also introduced in the 115th Congress) will establish the Office of International Cyberspace Policy led by a Senate-confirmable Ambassador for Cyberspace within the State Department. The Office will lead diplomatic efforts “on issues relating to international cybersecurity, Internet access and freedom, and international cyber threats,” while promoting an “open, interoperable, and secure Internet governed by a multi-stakeholder model.”  The bill also seeks to drive outcomes “on international norms with respect to responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.”

The legislation has been marked up by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March and is expected to pass the House and be taken up by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The State Department has already begun work on the creation on a cyber bureau within the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In the months ahead we’ll be seeing some interesting output from government on these increasingly significant topics. So, get ready to choose your lens, but make sure it’s one that will help us all sleep safer tonight.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful cybersecurity companies