News & Perspectives

TED2014 emergent themes #1: Security, Secrecy/Transparency, Trust

TED2014 emergent themes #1: Security, Secrecy/Transparency, Trust

Perspective// Posted by: Christine Mason / 26 Mar 2014

We are just back from our annual pilgrimage to the church of TED – the 2014 edition of “Ideas worth Spreading ”. It has the feeling of an old time revival, a container and showcase for the unbounded spirit of imaginative and creative capacity. And, as always, the sum of the whole is greater than it’s parts. We are covering the emergent themes for this year:

Theme 1: What is the right relationship between security and information velocity, between secrecy and transparency? Or, whither the internet?

As the internet matures, it is mirroring the same sorts of struggles that most human systems seem to experience, namely the balance of access on behalf of the whole, or the privileging of a select few. Whether its questions of privacy, bandwidth, design for the lowest resolution participant, or balloon provisioning of access – the question of whither the internet was up at this year’s TED.

The most dramatic example, of course was the arrival by telepresence robot of hero/criminal Edward Snowden (the video of which has already had over 1M views in its first week). Snowden had very provocative questions on such things as: what is the relationship you want with your government? who owns the internet? — and a rather clear viewpoint on how we go about taking back the internet from those that would infringe on liberties. In a true TED moment, Snowden was joined on stage by longterm TEDster and father of the interner Tim Berners-Lee, who just happened to be in the audience. Tim has also spoken out independently on how “The Web Needs its Freedom”.

The NSA responded to Snowden’s remarks and made a case for their approach. While there were some legitimate points made, the spokesman seemed fundamentally tone deaf – focusing NOT on the main objections to NSA policy and answering them directly in a considered manner, but reorienting the conversation to catching bad guys. The NSA has a point of view and they are sticking to it. It didn’t help that the speaker was another white middle-aged male making Dallas Cowboys references– this is who runs our government, this is whose viewpoint is represented: it’s not pluralist, or global, and smacks of coming from a fundamental risk orientation – risk mitigation at all costs. It’s an insider’s worldview. We long for an authentic dialogue with our government on this and many other subjects, not more of these conversations coming from entrenched viewpoints and steeped in rhetoric.

Along the same theme, the thoughtful hacker activist Keren Elazari made a strong case for hackers as a force for good – as the last defense against corporate and government overstepping and overreaching on the net. From the provisioning of old fashioned dialup when abusive governments shut off the main switches, presumably to stop the world from seeing what was going on in country and to impede communication between activtists, to finding loopholes and security holes in systems, hackers are needed. In a way, hackers are pointing to a sort of technical right to bear arms, a last line of citizen defense in the digital realm.

Del Harvey who heads security at Twitter, also spoke on the balance of security. (The link is to a prior talk, this year’s is not up yet), She articulates elegantly the challenges of working through edge cases and potential abuse, and how her company works to balance velocity and sharing with keeping users safe.

Even 2014 TEDPrize winner Charmian Gooch’s talk fundamentally was on transparency. She called for complete global transparency on corporate ownership. No more secrets, and no more secret actors. We, the people, law enforcement, etc – should know who we’re up against, she asserts.

Charmian is a global crusader against corruption, and has done a lot of work to surface corruption issues, particularly related to resources used to fund violence in Africa and Asia, but there are implications for transparency worldwide. One of her main threads is follow the money. TEDster and internet pioneer Larry Lessig, who gave a powerful talk last year about the fundamental corruption of American politics through financial manipulation, is also talking about transparency and equity.

Worldwide, the internet is a tool that could out corruption, help us to follow the money, provide freedom and access to information for everyone, but not if entrenched interests would have their way with it, which they almost always seem to attempt to do.

The questions posed on this subject at TED 2014 are questions worth spreading. What is the right balance between security and velocity? Who and how do we trust?

Christine Mason
Christine maps new markets for emerging technologies, scouts for strategic expansion opportunities, and guides internal innovation strategies for leading companies.