In a recent speech President Obama again stressed the need for better collaboration between the tech industry and the government. He referred to his own White House initiative – this has resulted in the newly-formed US Digital Service, which is trying to recruit the tech industry to work with and for government.
One of the key reasons it is so difficult to establish trustworthy, good working relationships is the extreme lack of tech understanding among most politicians and government bureaucrats. Because of that they fall back on heavy-handed legislation. We saw this recently in the USA in relation to the Apple vs FBI case (which fortunately has been dropped), where both politicians and the public media showed an enormous lack of understanding of the consequences of such dogmatic approaches. In Australia we have also seen the previous PM and various ministers floundering over tech issues in relation to the NBN, copyrights and data protection issues.
The current relationship between government and industry remains very much a top-down approach. We tell you what to do and you do what you are told. While this relationship is widespread across all sectors, it is particularly evident in telecoms – for example, in NBN policies, data surveillance and data protection legislation, and innovation policies. Another issue is that for political reasons government prefers to come up with silo-based piecemeal policy announcements and spin them out over long periods, while the country needs a far more holistic approach.
I have mentioned the total absence of the government’s NBN project in its innovation policy. In any other country in the world such a project would be the spearhead of such a policy.
Both government and industry do, in general, understand that there are national interest issues as well as commercial issues, but the best way to address such issues is through a better relationship between government and industry – in this case the tech industry. The Obama initiative is a great example of a positive move in that direction.
A key issue I would like to highlight here is data surveillance policies. The proposed legislation will boost the government’s power to give directions to telcos in relation to infrastructure security, including issues such as vendor choice and network design, as well as forcing carriers to inform government security agencies of significant changes to their networks.
Rather than introducing such dogmatic and heavy-handed legislation a close working relationship between the government and the industry would be less intrusive and far more effective; and several organisations, such as TPG, have stressed this over and over again in their submissions. These issues are being discussed not only in Australia but across the entire western world.
The main reason I am against the heavy-handed approach is that in this way long-standing democratic principles are being eroded by ‘the ‘state’ under the banner of protecting people against terrorism (and other bad things). At the same time I believe that this new level of ‘state protection’ is the biggest danger to our individual rights and freedoms, or more generally to our democratic systems.
Under the influence of ultra-right movements in the USA, Europe and Australia we see national states implementing draconian laws to protect its people. While some of this might be genuine this environment also allows power-hungry politicians, bureaucrats and demagogues to use the atmosphere of uncertainty to increase their own positions and political powers – and they don’t shy away from using plain lies, half-truths, racism and other questionable methods. With the assistance of a dumbed down right-wing press this rot is spreading throughout society. However, such policies are failing and will continue to fail in the cat and mouse game between policies and technological developments.
This has more to do with political expedience than with addressing the real issues. As we see with Trump and other populist politicians, they don’t get a majority but their influence on other politicians, and their consequent political decisions, is significant; and this in turn leads to many people no longer seeing the state as representing them. They see that, by moving in these ‘protective’ directions, states are using all kinds of new laws, regulations and restrictive measures to undermine the society, culture and traditions that they have helped develop over the last 50 years or so.
What this does goes directly against some of our most valued democratic principles – whereby the state becomes more and more involved in all aspects of the daily life of its citizens. Eventually this will backfire, as people become more and more suspicious of the state that no longer truly represents its people.
Both Nietzche and Orwell warned against such developments.
I believe that the majority of people still prefer a far more centrist political system.
I remain positive that we can avoid the most disastrous elements of these current political developments. However it requires those people who are concerned about it to remain vigilant and not allow paranoia and dogma to take over from reason.
While the top-down ‘Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms’ (TSSR) as expressed in the draft of the ‘Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill’ have been somewhat watered down, the basis remains dogmatic and will not provide the results the government want. True government-industry collaboration as per Obama’s recent speech will deliver far more effective results, not just in this case but in others. Again, concentrating on the tech sectors NBN policies would also be a prime target for industry-government collaboration as the project started back in 2007-2009, when more than 400 people from industry actively participated in shaping the policies and strategies of the NBN.
We are perhaps in one of the few countries in the world with a tech-savvy PM, and so we could lead the world in showing how such collaboration can work. It is very disappointing, however, that politics seem to get in the way of this.