What we seem to have learned from the recent disclosures is what we mostly suspected. The online world is monitored and things of potential interest to governments are investigated where practical. Some of the recent debate seems to have included government officials explaining that they know best – how could a journalist or a civilian know best when it comes to matters of (potential) national security?
So here I am – an independent consultant – using the web to promote myself. I comment on a range of matters – from risk management to cloud technology to social media to reviews of novels I have read. I seek to draw attention to myself as someone who may be able to assist a company/ individual in solving a problem or exploiting an opportunity, because of my skills. I use the web to assist me in my research, in developing networks and, to some extent, in uncovering potential opportunities. I also use the web for personal purposes – planning holidays, buying online, staying in touch with friends (via email and social media), etc.
Does the fact that governments, who may claim to know best, can analyse all of this online data about me cause me a problem? Not sure – it does give me some cause for concern. The problem with anyone having a lot of access is what do they choose to do with it. But what’s the choice?
What if I were to withdraw from the online world? No email, no file storage, no mobile communications. Would I give up using a phone? Say I were to revert to a typewriter and post. Even potentially a standalone PC (with wordprocessing capability) to produce hardcopy documents for physical delivery (in person or by post/ courier). No access to online booking of flights, online banking, online revenue returns. And so on.
Could I do this and be an independent consultant advising people/ businesses on how to operate so as to meet the expectations of their investors and/or regulators? Possibly, so long as there were people/ businesses willing to engage me in this low/no tech way and who were interested in applying some of these concepts in their own circumstances. Not a lot of upside in this it would seem to me.
No – I do not think typewriting is the way forward. But it seems to me that we have created a new world without thinking through the implications and the required safeguards. Spying and surveillance have their place – in securing national interests. But in the absence of safeguards there will be abuses – in fact even when safeguards are in place there will be abuses. However none of this excuses not making an effort to agree frameworks of appropriate behaviour with real sanctions for operating outside the framework. Clearly we have sanctions in place for soldiers who share information with Wikileaks. But do we have appropriate sanctions in place for those who claim to know best but abuse their positions? I think not. And the general sense of unease in the public mind, arising as a result of recent developments, would indicate that whatever is in place is not sufficiently reassuring for the general public.
It would appear that technology companies have had to come to arrangements with governments to provide access when governments believe they know best and access is required. And I can relate to this. I do not want terrorist organisations using technology to enable them to bypass government security. But of course the challenge is to manage the all-powerful government agencies after you grant them this access.
Perhaps we are headed for smaller networks – on local and/or n national levels. This seems to fly in the face of globalisation and our 24*365 society. Of course the ultimate in this is withdraw from networks, internet etc completely. However seems to me quite logical that citizens of one country will seek not to be subject to surveillance by governments of other countries if they can avoid it – unless they can be satisfied about the bona fides of the activities of the other governments. Locking people up for 35 years is obviously designed to send a message – to potential divulgers of government data and processes. But it does not serve to address the concerns of ordinary citizens around the world that Big Brother is Watching You all the time. This is the challenge to government – sinning the confidence of users of Information Technology.