As technology moves forward, there are also opportunities for so-called bad actors to disrupt and manipulate the free and transparent flow of information. And when information is compromised, trust erodes.
In 2019, we live in a world where trust in our institutions is at a low point. So how did we get here, and how do we force change?
Michael Chertoff, founder of The Chertoff Group and former United States Secretary of Homeland Security, and Jason Wiseman, Special Advisor on Counterterrorism for the European Parliament joined Forbes’ Randall Lane for the final session of Forbes Under 30 Global Retreat In Bratislava.
So from amongst the litany of headlines and governmental concerns, what keeps these cyber security problem-solvers up at night?
Michael Chertoff, part of the George W. Bush administration, takes a step back from specifics to warn on the long-term damage done, “I worry most about the erosion of faith in our institutions. I think our confidence in democratic institutions is at its lowest point for fifty years.”
Chertoff has seen the entire timeline, and makes a pertinent point for Slovaks who came out from behind the Iron Curtain alongside East Germany. He adds, “When the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago there was a tremendous sense of optimism, but we’re now back in the midst of a struggle. We need to figure out why trust was lost, and how to we regain it? Because without trust we can’t function as a coherent society.”
Speaking as a journalist and editor, chair Randall Lane raises objectivity and trust, “There’s nothing more ‘institutional’ than say NATO. It’s a bedrock western world institution in which faith has eroded.” The cause of this erosion? For Lane – “disinformation – at lot of people out there are having a hard time working out who to believe.”
Chertoff agrees and breaks this down into two categories. “One is behavior, the other is content that just turns out to be plain wrong. I am not a fan of regulating content. I know there’s a discussion about ‘fake news’ – I just don’t know what fake news – is it false, is it exaggerated, is it news that’s out of context? If you start to regulate content you find yourself in a world of censorship, which in many ways makes the treatment worse than the disease.”
However, he adds, “On the other hand – ‘behavior’ I think we can deal with.”
He expands, “There was a famous cartoon in the New Yorker magazine twenty years ago with two dogs in front of a computer, it said, ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.’ The lesson is that without face-to-face contact it’s hard to know who to trust.”
Chertoff outlines two types of behavior he says must be eliminated. Firstly the impersonation of real people by others. “We see it a lot with the Russian disinformation campaign.” And the second is artificial manipulation of the popularity of certain stories to make it seem as the crowd has endorsed a story, which he describes as, what should be “another network of trust” but in reality is “just a bunch of people sitting in St Petersburg, or a bunch of bots online generating likes.”
Jason Wiseman argues tech giants – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al – should be legally liable to ascertain the identity of those opening account and to shut down the accounts of those misrepresenting their identity. He’d also make them accountable for the artificial manipulation of something being endorsed or “liked”.
He adds, “I’d even take it one step further. If you’re obliged to validate who you are before setting up an account, then you’re naturally going to behave better – it’s self-relgulating in this regard. It’s easy to be cruel and vindictive when you can hide behind a computer screen and not reveal who you really are.” Wiseman wants to bring online life back out into “civil society” and argues that once that happens, we’ll be all the better for it. “Even if you’re a mean person, or you find yourself talking to someone with radically different views – you might find out that you support the same football team”, he says.
On the subject of terrorism, online and off, Wiseman argues for collaboration, and the need for “joint investigation teams”. He adds, “There’s a mix of skill sets that certain countries might have. Putting the right people together who have the right skills and expertise is a huge asset. Long term: joint training and funding so that everyone is on the same page when there’s an attack. This take practice – what happens in one country will often transfer over into another.”
Chertoff adds that global terrorism has become more intimate, and harder to detect. He warns, “Although we’ve done a lot to frustrate large-scale attacks like 9-11. What we are seeing now is terrorism on the right and the left – not just Jihadi – that encourages people to pick up their car keys, or pick up a knife and go and kill people. These are very hard to detect. We need to find a way to identify these people at the workplace and then intervene before they pick up a gun.”