Last weekend, I attended the Munich Security Conference. A cold couple of days – but a great opportunity to meet many interesting and influential figures in the field of defence, security and foreign affairs. I was there to highlight the increasing importance of Internet security. Internet attacks are ever more a threat to our well-being, being used as a new instrument for political and economic disruption; espionage; and potentially outright attacks instigated by terrorist groups or foreign governments. Meanwhile, some say cyber crime accounts for over $1 trillion—more than the global drugs trade.
Several speakers mentioned the relevance of the prolonged economic downturn: that in such an economic climate, Internet hackers risk becoming increasingly like terrorists, like what happened with the “red brigades” of the 1970s crisis. I sincerely hope this does not happen. But nonetheless we cannot ignore the problem of internet security: it is too important an issue to overlook, but too many still do. So later this year I’m planning an ambitious strategy for Europe to make sure that governments and the private sector wake up to the importance of acting in this area.
At the same time, we need to be careful and to protect freedom of speech and privacy. The Internet should not left to the military or to inter-state treaties—as though it were just another arena in which to exercise national power. The Internet has a very special nature, providing us all with an opportunity to connect and express ourselves: our priority should be to preserve this special character. So security should be combined with freedom: an important challenge in places where democratic voices still struggle to be heard. There was a lot of food for thought for me in that conference and I will continue to consult before coming up with proposals in the autumn.
Another thought. Syria was mentioned a lot in Munich, with an powerful and moving intervention by Nobel peace price laureate Tawakkol Karman. It was truly a great inspiration to meet someone fighting so hard for human rights and freedom of expression in a country like Yemen, where those rights are so valuable. The consensus at the conference was that it was a real shame that the UN Security Council, gathering in New York on 4 February, had been unable to adopt a resolution on Syria: the killing has to stop. But we should pay tribute to the many women and men who continue to struggle for freedom, by going out in the streets of Syria, risking their lives so that their children may come to know a freer life. I hope we can help them keep hope in the future and it made me ever more determined to find a way to protect and support such Internet activists.
[Edit: you can now see online my speech to the conference on the above topics]