A quick hit with reaction to day two at Davos.
Last night, I taped Arianna Huffington inviting people to send video questions and discussion to Davos:
At a session about the changing power equation, Gordon Brown, the man ready to move into No. 10 Downing St., is giving a rousing and enthusiastic endorsement of blogs and a charge to politicians, telling they they must listen and join in the debate. “You cannot make political decisions now without people being included in the decision,” he says. “The age of the smoke-filled room is over.” He argues that political leaders must go to convince people on policies such as trade and globalization; they must engage in big, national debates. He says that politicians are “catching up” with the people online.
Rupert Murdoch says that when big media gets it wrong, blogs are making them right. He also says that big media has much less power today.
Jack Ma, head of Alibaba in China, the ecommerce company, gives an endorsement of internet censorship — in the form of pornography and violence — and then even says that after 2,000 years of imperial rule, democracy would not work there. I find that argument, which I hear at events with people from inside China, frightening. Murdoch later takes it on, gently, saying that China believes this control is the role of the state and here we believe it is the role of parents. Brown says he is opposed to censorship in any form but that we need to understand the added pressure parents are under and help them.
I’m sitting in the front row for a panel on internet governance with future guy Paul Saffo, internet godfather Vint Cerf, Oxford Jonathan Zittrain, John Markoff, ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure, and Michael Dell. Yes, Michael Dell (more on that later; I met him last night). And yes, I have my Mac laptop open. Liveblogging a bit…..
Markoff says that “unless we find a way to police the commercial internet, it won’t survive…. (or) we’ll have to walk away from the internet and leave it like you’d leave a bad neighborhood.” That is, he fears for attacks on servers from around the world. He says that we have “a thriving security industry that sells fear” but that has not done a good job protecting consumers. He talks about pirated copies of Vista coming with trojans and about botnets; Cerf adds that there may be more than 100 million machines ensnared in this giving the bad guys supercomputers, as Markoff says. He talks about malware that took up to 15 percent of Yahoo’s search to grab the random text that is going into the current wave of spam to get it through the filters. Markoff is asked whether policing is the right metaphor; Cerf says others call it a fire department and the goal is still to put out the fire. Toure says this needs a global response. So the metaphor shifts to pandemics and vaccinations.
Cerf adds that “in spite of all the turmoil… the internet seems to be working, it’s a very resilient system.” He says it’s not just the net that needs work but also the operating systems that allow hackers to dig deep into them to do bad.
Dell says that the internet is largely anonymous “but the question has to be asked, as these issues and challenges escalate into ever more disruptive and vexing problems can this continue to be an almost completely anonymous system.” Cerf replies that there are good reasons to authenticate and validate (e.g., servers, domains) and that they can build a more refined structure. “Anonymity has its value and also its risks.” He says he reminds us that the United States was built on anonymous tracts.
Asked to give good news, Dell jokes that he has was to get that spam to you faster. He says there are two big opportunities. One is the unused spectrum that will be freed up in the shift to digital TV and opens up new communication and devices. The other is fibre, where the U.S. is behind. “We think of that is the real broadband.”
Zitrain gives a typically cogent explanation of where we are: from the whimsy of the start of the internet to the hard reality of security invasions that are too great to count. He says it is like the days of the old phone network when the means of communication are the same as the means of control, allowing hackers to break in with a Cap’n Crunch whistle. Zittrain is worried about the world of information appliances tethered to their makers, allowing central control of our devices. He says that the solutions will come, “similar to global warming,” by finding ways to track what is happening to our environment.
At a session on terrorism at Davos. Liveblogging a few notes….
Shaukat Aziz, prime minister of Pakistan, issues all the usual cant on terrorism: not died to a religion… no borders… root causes…. all that. He complains about profiling and says it “adds to heartburn.”
Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security in the U.S., tries to put a yardstick up to terrorism response, saying that rational people would agree to actions to stop a nuclear bomb that they would not agree to to stop one person from being shot. He focuses on what he calls “high-consequence events.” Stopping these requires inconvenience, some economic impact, and “some adjustment in even how we conceive of some of our liberties — but the key is not to go overboard.” What is high-consequence? what is overboard?
David Cameron, Conservative leader in the U.K., tries a similar act of measurement. “We’ve got to get right the hard-nosed defense of liberty rather than ineffective authoritarianism.” He says that there is a “quantum difference” in terrorism, worse than the days of the IRA and Baader-Meinhof. As a result, he says, “there are some big changes we have to make. It is vital that we get the balance right.”
Carefully countering Aziz on root causes, Cameron says that there is not “a list of demand that will stop Osama bin Laden from doing what he is going to do.” As a result, he says, the first reaction to terrorism must be security. Then one can “drain the swamp” that creates it. He also says that there is an “ideological cause” in the root of terrorism: “a perversion of Islam.” Aziz is shaking his head.
Cameron also says that he is against creating a separate ministry for counter-terrorism but instead wants two ministers in the Home Office, one devoted to police activities and the other devoted to counter-terrorism. Criticizing Blair, he says that “there has been too much focus on law and not enough focus on good administration.”
A Harvard professor asks Cameron whether he agrees with the UK Foreign Office’s advise that government officials should not use the term “war on terrorism” as it “plays into the narrative” of the terrorists and turns them into “martyrs in a holy war.” Cameron says he agrees. Chertoff says he wants to work with moderate members of the Islamic community to understand how they want to describe what is happening. Gijs M. de Vries of the EU attacks the phrase “Islamic terrorism” and says “there is no such thing…. Whether we call this a war or not, let us fight this fight within the bounds of human rights.” Aziz says the average terrorist is sitting in some remote location getting brainwashed and is not reading Foreign Office papers. He emphasizes the rhetoric of recruitment: deprivation, rights, and so on: “Let’s get reality.”
If rhetoric could kill…
Chertoff is asked by an Islamic organization official in the audience whether things are better five years on in the war/struggle/fight on terror and whether the day will come when we will sit down with a terrorist group, as the UK did with the IRA. Chertoff says let’s “get reality,” like Aziz, and recognize that bin Laden’s demand is for us to go back to the 12th century and there is no discussion with that. Cameron says “that is the big difference between the IRA and al Qaeda…. I’m not in any way belitting the IRA and what it did…. But to get this debate right we have to recognize the difference between IRA terrorism and suicide bombing… That is a different sort of terrorism and we would be betraying our populations if we did not recognize that and act on it. ”
The head of Amnesty International now also wants to look at reality and says that the U.S., U.K., and Pakistan have eroded human rights with torture and more. She asks to what extent undermining human rights “feeds the flames of terrorism.” Chertoff says he agrees we should not sacrifice human rights but also not treat every departure from normal process as a catastrophic betrayal of what we believe in. Aziz talks about the checks of having a free press and independent judiciary. Cameron says that of course we must defend freedom but also says that “in order to defeat terrorism, we have to maintain a balance,” citing, for example, how long the government may keep a suspect in jail when “you are trying to break up a complicated plot.”