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.