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Chatham House transcript - Controlling Information: who holds the power in the internet age?

Chatham House transcript - Controlling Information: who holds the power in the internet age?

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Chatham House - Controlling Information: who holds the power in the internet age?
Chatham House - Controlling Information: who holds the power in the internet age?

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Published by: axyy on Apr 28, 2011
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The views expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do notnecessarily reflect the view of Chatham House, its staff, associates or Council. Chatham Houseis independent and owes no allegiance to any government or to any political body. It does nottake institutional positions on policy issues. This document is issued on the understanding that ifany extract is used, the speakers and Chatham House should be credited, preferably with thedetails of the event. Where this document refers to or reports statements made by speakers at anevent every effort has been made to provide a fair representation of their views and opinions, butthe ultimate responsibility for accuracy lies with this document’s author(s). The published text ofspeeches and presentations may differ from delivery.
ControllingInformation: who holdsthe power in theinternet age?
Sir David Omand GCB
Former Security and Intelligence Coordinator, Cabinet Office, UK and Visiting Professor, WarStudies Department, King's College London
Guy Herbert
General Secretary, NO2ID
Nigel Inkster CMG
Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk, International Institute for StrategicStudies and Former Assistant Chief and Director for Operations and Intelligence, SIS13 April 2011
Transcript: Controlling Informationwww.chathamhouse.org.uk 2
Sir David Omand:
We all know the sensation: to connect to the internet is to feel yourself havinginstant access to humankind’s accumulated knowledge. Every major scientificdiscovery, every important work of culture, maps of everywhere. I can get asearch engine to provide me with thousands of references on any subject Ichoose. In that sense the internet does provide a democratization ofinformation.But the authorities, and commercial companies, also use it, trackinginformation about all the electronic traces we leave as we shop with a creditcard, book an airline ticket or cross a border. An essential capability for publicsecurity in a democracy, provided we have the rule of law and properoversight - not necessarily so benign in an authoritarian regime. So there willbe countries where this technology will not necessarily be empowering thepeople.The internet is the medium of choice for industrial scale leaking. But there willbe a downside. We risk the continued erosion of trust in society if we abandonthe importance of a duty of confidence, whether to the family, our employer orthe State.We have a law to protect whistleblowers, we have freedom of informationlegislation, and we have a media free to conduct investigative journalism. Butwe start with trust in privacy and keeping secrets - unless breakingconfidence really is judged necessary in the public interest. The test isgenuine public interest, not just selling newspapers because the public mightbe interested in the Wikileaks dump of diplomatic cables.Finally, access to the internet does not confer the power of wisdom. Theinternet is filled with misinformation, and downright wrong information. Thelargest consumers of broadband have been internet porn and on-line games,and now social media sites. The blogosphere reveals a world of old mediastories, conspiracy theories, celebrity froth and personal emotional rants. Theproblem is too much information. Serious people will still pay someone else todo the selecting - through listening to BBC Radio 4 perhaps, or going to arespected media website. So influence, if not power, will still rest back withthe opinion formers – a cheerful conclusion for media folk.
Transcript: Controlling Informationwww.chathamhouse.org.uk 3
Guy Herbert:
Information about you is power over you, as every blackmailer, taxman, orvillage gossip knows.The web is a familiar face covering universal, flexible, networked computing.Information can be found, transmitted, matched and re-matched faster thanwe can grasp. That is changing the distribution of power, yes, but also itsnature and quantity.Our slow-grown social institutions - and our individual social brains - are notequipped to cope. The flux of power is not one way. But individuals seldomhave the capacity to use the new power. They are most likely prey to newpredators.Privacy and confidentiality aren’t well understood and aren’t well protected -either in law or moral status - because in the past they haven’t needed to be.Personal intuitions about sharing personal information - even our intuitionsabout what is personal - are formed by our sense of the limits of personalacquaintance. We have a feeling for the repeatability of conversation and theamount that we remember of what we see and hear. But we begin to live in aworld where nothing is forgotten, and what is passed on may reach anyone.States, on the other hand, have an appetite for information. Getting enoughwas always a problem. They gorge on data that they cannot contain, andcannot digest. The technology of the early 21st century is being grafted ontothe planning urges of a century before.Interpretation looks easier, because processing is easier: but it is reallyharder. More apparent detail is more temptation to intervene in detail - directlywith the person the state thinks it ‘knows’, not through mediating institutions.The database state does have more power than its predecessors. And is,though yet naively, more inclined to use it. If our habits and institutions do notevolve fast to constrain it, then individual liberty is at risk.

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