A senior government official once told me, “technology is not my friend”. His concern was that his government was sharing sensitive national technology information with a few allies, but some of that information was finding its way to another nation that his government didn’t consider to be a friend. This undermined his government’s trust in the allies with whom they were sharing information.
Technology makes this ability to share information very easy – too easy. It gives us huge benefits. After all, the Internet has many freedoms but few safeguards. It’s a place where you can do truly foolish things, on an epic scale, very quickly and with no hope of recovery. That sounds dangerous - a bit like doing the cycling Giro D’Italia in 1914 on a bike with wooden wheel rims and brake blocks made from cork that quickly wore out. The road on the steepest descent above Susa is littered with roadside tributes to young men killed in accidents, mostly because they couldn’t stop.
Today, as Internet services, mobile and broadband give us the ability to go faster and further in cyberspace, can we see and stop in time to be safe? Surely we – citizens, organisations and governments - should make sure we have the brakes we need to prevent ourselves from harm. But most of us don’t. Almost all of us have the Internet equivalent of brakes of cork.
The first duty of a government is to protect its citizens and, by extension, the organisations that create the nation’s wealth. In the physical world, they have had centuries to develop the laws, procedures, mechanisms and organisations to protect us, and they have done that fairly well. However, the cyber world is more complex and borderless, and changing too fast. We haven’t had the time to make it safe enough. Few governments can protect more than themselves – citizens and organisations have to look after themselves. Technology is wonderfully attractive, but it is not their friend.
We need new ways to know who our friends are in cyberspace.