2015 Black Hat Keynote- Lifecycle of a Revolution By Bikash Chatterjee
August 2015- The keynote address at this year’s Black Hat conference was given by Jennifer Grannik. She is the Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. She is famous with the cyber community for defending some of the more notorious criminal hackers in history, including Kevin Poulsen, Aaron Swartz, Jerome Heckenkamp and the hackers in the Diebold Election Systems case. The title of her talk was “Lifecycle of a Revolution” Ms. Grannik gave an impassioned warning to the cyber community that the internet revolution is moving away from its founding principles. Citing the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace first published by John Perry Barlow in 1996 and the Hacker Manifesto first published by a security hacker that went under the pseudonym “The Mentor” as embodying the vision and spirit of the cyber revolution Ms. Grannick warned that escalating government surveillance, censorship and removal of protection from the first amendment are threatening to transform the internet into another tool in the toolkit of those in power. The principles of openness, collaboration and communication have been replaced by catastrophic data breaches and a struggle to control, not foster communication.
Citing that security is power in today’s global political environment. Those that can provide security or enforce security wield a powerful stick. The ability to provide a secure environment for dialog can have profoundly impact on the world events. We have seen this with the impact of Twitter and Facebook in Egypt and Iran during periods of social unrest. The goal initially of the cyber revolution was to use technology to level the playing field, foster new ideas and new political power, opening the world up to new communities of people, liberating ourselves from some of the dangers of bad government. That is happening today to some extent but as emerging markets narrow the technology gap we find ourselves hampered by governments that do not subscribe to the Rule of Law. As a result, the internet and internet security are being used as a weapon against promoting the principles of the early adopters.
The question that is open is: is this a natural consequence of any technology which has grown in capability and sophistication to a point where it is an inextricable component of society today, and is there anything that can be done to reverse the abuse of power? Ms. Grannick cited Tim Wu’s book “The Master Switch” which asked the question: is the Internet any different than every other invention of the information age? Wu says every invention goes through a cycle of openness which ultimately deteriorates into the basis for an information empire. When this happens usually the only path forward is to smash the cycle and start over with something better. The question raised in this keynote was whether we have reached that point yet and if so is it time to smash the cycle and start over with something new.