technology leaders
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Charl van der Walt, Chief Security Strategy Officer, SecureData, discusses why the tech pages are not the most important part of a newspaper for technology leaders and why the politics pages are

We live in an age driven and dictated by technology, and in which pretty much every business is a technology business to some degree. As such, for pretty much every business leader, what the tech world says is important. This means that comments, views and news coming out of Silicon Valley (or the new tech ‘Valleys’ springing up the world over) are closely monitored, and frequently influence key business decisions. Keeping abreast of the latest ideas coming out of the tech sector can help to influence strategies for your next pitch, win your next new client, deploy the next new technology in your office, or promote a next-generation smart city vision for your local region.

Whether it’s reading the tech pages in the FT, or scrolling through them on Google, these repositories for content are a valuable means of keeping up to date on the latest goings-on. However, they aren’t the be-all and end-all, and – especially for those operating in the public sector – there’s a group of journalists who make for even more valuable business consultants. Who are the journalists that you want to be friendly with? The politics and policy reporters.

The political press corps in the UK is highly respected, and its journalists have admired the world over for their tenacity in holding those in power to account. We have a legal structure in place which aims to protect the freedom of the press, and in an age of social media and ‘fake news’, the media’s continued efforts to expose political injustices, deliver breaking political news, and, yes, reveal outrageous political scandals, should be highly valued. The respect garnered by this sector of journalists also means that politicians themselves are happy to be interviewed (a couple of party leaders notwithstanding), supporting the image of trust and transparency of the UK press.

Dispatches from Whitehall

As a technologist, though, why should the politics pages (rather than the tech pages) be your first port of call during your daily news sweep? Because technology – despite the common view that it knows no borders – is, in fact, subject to geopolitical realities. Technology has a ‘personality’ that is formed by the places where it is conceived, born, raised and used. If we want to truly understand technology, and particularly the security of technology, then we have to understand that technology is being shaped by massive cultural and geopolitical forces. It’s not the specs of the new iPhone that will shape the world of tomorrow; it’s the manner in which the conflict between the US and Chinese firm Huawei plays out. It’s not Facebook’s new features that will ultimately define our online privacy; it’s the UK government’s stance on creating or allowing backdoors in cryptographic systems. Technology is shaped by culture and politics, just as much as culture and politics are shaped by technology.

As technologies and digital content are created/used/published on a global scale, politicians in each region will have their own take on how its citizens should create/use/publish in response, influenced by national and international events. One implication of this is that we’re currently seeing a splintering of the internet. This is because states are in disagreement on how data should be controlled. Think of the EU-US Privacy Shield framework, which replaced the International Safe Harbor Privacy Principles in 2016, and the future of which remains uncertain due to ongoing disagreement between both regions. Think too of the proposed Digital Services Levy, which the UK government gave the go-ahead to in June, despite hostility to the proposals from the US.

Developments such as these affect us all. We all need to get out of this technology bubble we live in, and start to swot up on how politics and policy can affect innovation and implementation.

The symbiosis between politics and tech

It’s easy to see how politics is having an impact on the technology and cybersecurity industries. For instance, there’s a lot of uncertainty around how Brexit will impact the digital skills shortages in the UK. According to one estimate, over half of business leaders believe the UK is at risk of a tech brain drain post-Brexit. As a result, almost two-thirds of business leaders believe investing in digital skills will become more important for businesses when the UK leaves the EU. Keeping up to date with policy affecting employment rights, immigration etc. is therefore crucial.

But what about on the other side of the coin? With technology dominating conversation and business operations, politicos are going to need a much deeper understanding of technology. This includes Conservative MP Amber Rudd, who has admitted that she doesn’t understand WhatsApp technology, despite believing that such apps should be altered to combat criminal behaviour. Instead of relying on being briefed by experts, those in power will require at the very least a basic understanding of the issues that the technology industry faces and deals with on a daily basis.

One of those issues that politicians, businesses, techies, and the public deal with (no, not Brexit again) is cybersecurity. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has been working to address the lack of awareness and lack of action from some amongst these parties, since its launch in October 2016. Through the provision of practical guidance on cybersecurity and by offering a single point of contact, the NCSC has created a bridge between government agencies, businesses and the general public. This has served to highlight the importance of cybersecurity in policy-making, business strategy and the everyday behaviour of IT users.

Technology and security have a significant impact on the well-being of people and society as a whole. Education, collaboration and innovation (in terms of cybersecurity) should be promoted, and we need to move away from the notion that developments in the technology and security sectors are driven solely by profit. The impacts on citizens and the wider political ramifications must also be factored into any decision within the security space, not just in the UK, but globally.

Knowledge is power

It stands to reason that any private company or public body looking to adopt new technologies should have a solid knowledge of public policy and upcoming legislation that could impact the long-term success of any deployment. The questions that will need to be asked aren’t going to be: ‘how can we deploy this technology?’ They’ll be: ‘how can we deploy this affordably but securely, whilst respecting basic rights like privacy and freedom of expression? What will it mean for the services we deliver to those we serve?’

As conversations around regulation, Brexit, and innovation continue, businesses must have at the very least some knowledge of policy. So, instead of going directly to the technology pages on your morning commute or with your morning coffee, maybe take a look at the politics pages first.


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