RSA 2016: Lawmakers "don't understand what's right and wrong"

US Capitol Building
4 Mar, 2016

Lack of technical knowledge in government and a docile creative sector are putting security at risk

David Rothkopf, foreign policy expert and author of National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear, has hit out at law makers and warned of a coming shift in millenials' attitudes towards personal data.

Speaking at RSA Conference 2016, Rothkopf argued that a technically illiterate political class is currently the greatest challenge faced by security professionals.

"[If] you have a leadership class that is not educated in the language of [cybersecurity] and you've got creative classes that are not addressing the consequences of this then you've got a much bigger problem than hackers or cyberwar," said Rothkopf. "You've got the problem of people writing laws that don't understand what right and wrong is in this society."

Rothkopf claimed this lack of comprehension is hobbling discussions on privacy as well.

"You're seeing it in the debate right now about privacy. The debate about privacy is being waged among a handful of lawyers and a handful of people in your industry, between Apple and the US government at the moment based on a set of assumptions about the nature of the use of data that's antiquated," he said.

Changing attitudes and the big data age

In his keynote, Rothkopf said we are on the verge of a shift in attitudes towards personal data, particularly among millenials, that could shake business models across the tech industry.

Rothkopf claimed we are on the cusp of a new era, the Big Data World, where "the fundamental unit of economic activity on the planet is not a dollar, but a bit or a byte".

"It may be that millenials say 'oh I don't have privacy, I don't care' today, but in the big data world ... where the data that you are producing is seen finally by everybody to have value, then views are going to change," he said.

Rothkopf also claimed people have been persuaded too easily by the likes of Facebook and Google to hand over their data for supposedly free services.

"What does that mean? It means that people have been exploited and they're going to realise they've been exploited," he said, claiming that when this happens they will demand control over their data once again -- a shift he said was already happening in Europe.

For Rothkopf, this presents a fundamental challenge to US tech companies, which are used to an "opt-out" model of data control, and to their business models.

"The rest of the world doesn't think we get to decide [the rules]," said Rothkopf.

"One of the things that we have to come to grips with is that although we invented the internet, though we invented all of these technologies, our assumption that we're going to get to set the rules for these things [is] incorrect," he said. "T he idea that what happens in the internet is something that government can control is actually becoming the prevailing view around the world."

Catch up on all the latest from RSA Conference 2016.