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May 17, 2008

The Global Village

It is often said that in Japan, safety and water are always free. But after our third deep dive on the Security & Society focus area, held here in Tokyo, the feeling around the room was that only the latter remains true today.

Of course, Japan is still one of the safest countries in the world. But many of the Japanese participants in this session expressed grave concern that in today’s rapidly globalizing world, the approaches that facilitated this secure environment in the past -- common social values, community-oriented security -- were impossible to maintain. And that sentiment fueled a compelling, productive day of conversation around the respective roles of community and government in providing security.

The group actually came from all around the Asia-Pacific region. Aside from the Japanese participants -- which included representatives from Toyota, Nissan, Bank of Tokyo, Chuo University, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications – there was a venture capitalist from Australia, a security expert from Visa based in Singapore, and an innovation consultant from Malaysia. And each brought with them a unique perspective on what government can and cannot provide when it comes to security.

One of the basic functions of government is to provide a safe and secure living environment for its people. Some do this better than others. Some do it by building and maintaining strong law enforcement agencies. Others by cultivating common values and a culture of security. But the participants in this dive seemed to feel that the changing threat landscape was getting the best of many governments.

In particular, the legislative and penal systems that address digital crimes are dangerously immature. “When it comes to security and crime, there are two major disincentives,” said Dr. Lynn Batten, a Professor of Science and Technology at Deakin University in Melbourne. “First, there are the protection systems, like the vault at the bank. The second is the judicial system, which says if you get caught, you will be put in jail or worse. But as we move into the digital Internet age, that second component has been very weak. Businesses have been challenged to come up with great security technologies, but where is the government analog? Some of these cyber crime cases are entirely dependent on expert witnesses because no one else knows about this stuff. And many of these cases take place across national borders, which highlights the many problems with international law.”

Earlier in this GIO focus area, we talked about the role of incentives in providing security. But equally important, as Dr. Batten points out, is the need for effective disincentives. There was also a prescient warning from one participant against relying too much on government to provide security, because, among other things, the government will often turn to industry to aid in the cause, sometimes inappropriately.

For example, purchasing the book Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical account of his political ideology, is illegal in Germany. But should merchants, Internet service providers, and payment system vendors be responsible for reporting online purchases of this book from inside of Germany? There are countless examples like this, where industry has access to information that would be helpful to governments endeavoring to secure their nations. The question is to what extent should these businesses cooperate?

“Government is probably the least capable organizations in terms of dealing with modern security threats,” said Hamzah Kassim, the Chief Executive Officer of The IA Group, a consultancy based in Kuala Lumpur. “In the future, it will be communities that are more powerful in this regard.”

This idea of community-based security is not dissimilar to the discussions we had in Moscow and Berlin. We all know what this means in the analog world: because there is transparency in a community, i.e. we all know each other and what we look like, there is a collective set of values that guides good behavior. And those that eschew that behavior are ostracized. But what does that look like in the digital world, where anonymity is a fundamental part of the experience? Is there a digital scarlet letter than could follow a user from place to place? Is there a cyber code of ethics that will someday emerge?

In some smaller online communities, there is some effective self-policing that takes place. Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Wikipedia all demonstrate the power of collective self-managment. But the Internet allows a single person to assume many identities, rendering traditional community-based policing useless, or at best temporary. Also, as Hiroshi Maruyama, the Director of the Tokyo Research Lab for IBM, said, “Can you trust the wisdom of a community? Or are they just a mob?”

There was a lot more that came out of this deep dive, including a fascinating conversation about the potential of mobile technology, and some important discussion on the tradeoffs between security and privacy (including some very cool biometric solutions from here in Japan.) More on that later. And stay tuned for the results from the Taipei dive next week.

May 17, 2008 in Security and Society | Permalink


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Community-based security can be implemented as long as there's transparency to it.

Posted by: furnished office | Apr 10, 2011 6:15:50 PM

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