John Kerry discusses ethical, social challenges of internet age


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sat casually on the stage of the Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel ballroom in Menlo Park on Monday discussing ethical and social challenges linked with technology and the internet.

The event was part of a two-day internet conference hosted by the Internet Association, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group with a platform supported by many major internet companies. The conference, called "Virtuous Circle" attracted a lineup of internet entrepreneurs and government leaders.

Kerry's appearance came several days after the U.S. on Oct. 7 formally accused Russia of hacking emails at the Democratic National Committee.

"We need to take every measure possible to guarantee the integrity of our elections," he said.

As everyone becomes more dependent on the internet and internet-based services, breaches in cybersecurity become more of a potential threat.

Overall, he said, the expansion of new technologies has been a net positive on a global level.

"Everyone who has a smartphone has an instrument of empowerment," he said.

However, new technologies have created new challenges. One fear of tech companies is that government and security agencies will seek access to "back door" decryption tools to obtain private information stored on personal tech devices.

Kerry said he's not looking for any back doors, but added that there should be "rules of the road" for dangerous scenarios involving national security. One scenario he presented: What if data from a tech company discovered that a nuclear bomb, planted in New York City, was set to detonate in 48 hours? What is the company's role as a "corporate citizen"?

"These are big issues," he said.

Preserving the integrity, innovation and freedom of the internet is important, as is the task of protecting Americans, he said.

"I do not come here with all the answers to this, because a lot of this is uncharted territory," he said.

Kerry also discussed some of the social challenges resulting from the tech boom.

"Productivity increases are not what they were," he said. "Blue collar jobs are being lost at a higher percentage than are tech jobs filling the void. . . . There's just a massive amount of disruption we're living with today, and public policy is much harder to fashion into a consensus as a result of that.

"We have to tame the worst instincts of insensitive capitalism, and get a sustainable and people-sensitive product that everybody can feel good about, because right now we've got a lot of angry people who just don't know where their future is and where they're going," he said.

In short, Kerry said, "We all need to be thoughtful about how we're going to manage this."

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1 person likes this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2016 at 11:08 am

Perhaps one of the "rules of the road" for dangerous scenarios involving national security would be for government officials to keep their personal and government e-mails stored on separate servers in places other than a basement somewhere (I believe that's the law) as well as personal "devices." The server with classified information should connect to one secured by the government for 24/7 accessibility. Is that expecting too much?

2 people like this
Posted by Los Altos resident
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 13, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Blah blah blah. Kerry does not have an original thought and offers not insight whatsoever. Why is he even invited to an event like this? It's depressing.

3 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 13, 2016 at 10:00 pm

@38 - One difficulty is that people selling computers, communications, and so on, for email, IoT, and so on, are not going to sell the vulnerability of such services. For decades we have been told that this and that make for security, but a few month's later we read that it didn't. BOD hasn't made it easier. And we are to understand too that there are power grid and plant sites using connected Windows for vital functions. IT people in general have forced Windows completely through companies from the Internet Gateway to the factory floor. So email may not be the biggest problem.

Some Federal employees get training in email use, but no one I know in a commercial setting ever has.

Departments in Washington have been rated as to security. The VA is on the bottom, the Pentagon on top. State is one up from the VA. It's basically a computer museum. People are forgetting that Sec'y Clinton early on asked Congress for funding to upgrade offshore facility security, and for better computer systems. Both requests were refused, of course. State uses one of the intelligence agency systems physically distinct from State Department systems for Top Secret communications we read.

We may feel that a private professionally installed and maintained server for a Cabinet member is undesirable, but it wasn't unprecedented and is only now against the rules. The server was likely more secure than the State Department's were, especially if it was a recent version of Linux+firewall. I've never heard the server itself described, however. Remember, Beijing is a Windows source site as a condition of doing business there.

So far very intense investigation of all that email has turned up nothing. It seems the "investigation" is just part of a political campaign run at the taxpayer's expense and with the authority of a captured Congressional Committee. That campaign has been quite effective we see.

OT - It's not clear what its perpetrators intend to do with the mob they have added. They basically have taken Southeastern politics national.
The technique, well developed over actually hundreds of years, has been to raise bitterly distracted and adversarial groups while the real players clean the table. In the Southeast the groups are basically racial, of course. We should not be overlooking the sectional and historical part of our political process today. Taking it all as a manifestation of abstract arguments like individualism vs collectivism or whatever would be a possibly fatal mistake.

3 people like this
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 14, 2016 at 2:14 am

Typo - sorry I meant BYOD = bring your own device, that is, a proliferation of device types including personal property.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 14, 2016 at 6:08 am

People who work in the government and government contractor companies that do "classified" work do not mix their personal and work email. Companies pay a huge amount of money to keep their servers specific to the company effort. The biggest problem out there is how fast technology upgrades so a lot of money has to go into keeping all of the connecting pieces working. Referring to someone in the past as to how they functioned does not recognize that the technology has evolved quickly. Most people now have to ask their children to help them with the latest upgrades to their equipment. That is why those companies are in business. People sign agreements to conform to what ever their company or agency is using so that the company does not have to work to de-bug what individuals have introduced into the main server systems. What HRC did is what other people get fired for. We do not pay her in her job description to disrupt what ever the current working platform the company or agency is using. Yes - she had a job description and it was not to disrupt what ever the agency was currently using.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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