Blueprints vs. Tweets

By Einar Tangen
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 25, 2018
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Against a background of cybersecurity threats related to terrorism, cyber warfare, consumer fraud, political manipulation, money laundering, stolen identities, "fake news" and "deep fake news," President Xi Jinping gave a speech on Saturday regarding the blueprint of China's cybersecurity future.

A customer talks with a robot at the entrance of a self-service area of Jiujiang Road branch of China Construction Bank (CCB) in Shanghai, east China, April 12, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump spent the day Tweeting that he was confident his lawyer would not "flip" and testify against him. 

The stunning part of this is not that Xi gave a speech about cybersecurity, in line with policies he has been articulating since 2013, or that Trump has domestic problems, but that instead of a specific cybersecurity policy strategy or implementation plan Trump only has Tweets and sound bites. 

The world is at a tipping point, one which will see the rise of nations with large and fast growing markets, like India and China, take an equal place at the table with developed nations, which hold the majority of the world's wealth. This new multi-polar world will work differently and will have new costs and benefits. The question is: What is needed, Tweets or blueprints?

Why is this important?

At a time when international trade norms are under attack, ironically by the very country – the U.S. – who orchestrated them, and political alliances are shifting, we are in the midst of a sea-change from a mono-polar to a multi-polar economic and political structure. The new norms will be written less in ideological terms, and more in either bilateral – as favored by Trump – or multilateral, as favored by the rest of the world. The internet, how it is used and who controls it, is an important part of this new order.

We all know the internet is a double-edged sword, an instrument of communication and knowledge, but also of chaos and crime. In a mono-polar world, with the U.S. as its policeman backed by the EU, the worldwide internet was an extension of Western democratic ideals. Today, as the dark side of the internet is exposed, idealism has died and the cold hard reality that cyber security, like public security, is part of the government's responsibility has come home. In essence, you can have cyber freedom or security, but not both.

In 2013, Xi outlined his thoughts about a sovereign internet in China – the idea that China will be responsible for safeguarding its government and people from cyber-attacks. Each year since, the government has enacted policies and laws aimed, from the government's side, at protecting the public and the government from cyber threats. This has included taking down illegal VPN's, requiring information created and used in China to be stored in China and monitoring of social media. 

In his speech, he outlined the need for cyber security, but also for innovation and placing responsibility for cyber security directly on the government. This means that China will continue to look for a balance that achieves both goals, and one should not be surprised if there are some bumps in the road as they attempt to fine tune their policies.

To detractors in many developed, and also developing, countries, these are unconscionable infringements on private rights. However, there is more than a little hypocrisy in this sentiment, as the many leaks and revelations show that almost all governments around the world, and many private companies, are involved in black and/or grey data collection and use. The other issue is the lack of proposals to solve the security threats posed by the internet.

From election tampering to mass surveillance, to planting or extracting back doors to the hard drives and software we use every day, the tools of data extraction are growing more sophisticated and more widely used. The combination of Big Data, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will change the world as we know it, while also presenting new ethical and security challenges. The point is that we are in a period of transition, and it is doubtful that the issues can be solved with a Tweet – the adult response, it seems, is a blueprint. 

Einar Tangen is a political and economic affairs commentator, author and columnist.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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