RSA Conference 2016: View from the airport

Jane McCallion reflects on last week's annual security gathering

I don't think I could have picked a better first year to attend RSA Conference if I'd tried. Don't get me wrong, I love security and privacy, and I'll write about them any day of the week (especially Monday to Friday), but this year, with Apple and the FBI facing off in court over encryption, the stars really did align to make an interesting conference.

And what's more, people are talking about it.

I was a bit taken aback by RSA president Amit Yoran's keynote when he discussed the issue head on - I'm far more used to companies circumnavigating these kinds off topics and, effectively, trying not to rock the boat.

It was also nice to hear Brad Smith, Microsoft's general legal counsel, talking about Apple's problems and the ones faced by his company regarding email data held in its Dublin datacentre - in my opinion one of the most important cases of its kind, with potentially very far-reaching consequences for the tech industry as a whole and the cloud industry in particular.

Strong words were spoken, with Smith's comment about the road to hell starting with the backdoor standing out in my mind as a particular favourite.

But let's not kid ourselves that RSA Conference is a hotbed of insurrection, either - many of those speakers who weren't from the IT security industry were from the US Departments of Justice or Defense, including US attorney general Loretta Lynch.

Nevertheless, it was still refreshing to hear these topics talked about openly rather than the circumvention or plain "no comment" responses companies normally offer when asked about these contentious issues.

It wasn't all government and privacy, however.

Several talks touched on the future of computing, with one of the most interesting being from Oxford University's Nick Bostrom, who spoke on the safety issues of advanced AI andwhy we must act now to ensure AI with human-level intelligence or above - which has been predicted to arise within the next 30 years - is also human-friendly.

Another rather philosophical talk came from author and foreign policy expert David Rothkopf. Rothkopf predicted that, while millenials may give away their data for free now and are considered very lax about their privacy, this won't hold out as they get older as they come to realise, in his words, that they have been exploited.

Overall, RSA Conference is a unique experience. Despite being hosted by RSA, it's not a vendor-centric event, instead concentrating on the main issues in security and privacy right now. Indeed, it's open enough that even those who are not entirely embedded in the field could get something from the various keynotes and panels on offer.

I look forward to seeing what next year's event will turn up.

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