Black Hat 2015 Keynote – The Lifecycle of a Revolution


JenniferGranick1_1Known as the first person a hacker calls when in trouble, Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties for the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School gave the opening keynote speech for the Black Hat 2015 conference in Las Vegas, August 5th.

Considered by many to be a pioneer in the development of the internet, Jennifer says she has been to nearly all the Black Hat conferences ever held and has been attending similar events for 20 years.

She advocates for a “free and open” internet and believes that people want to live in a world where information is free and accessible by everyone.  More than that, Jennifer believes people should be able to study, manipulate and reverse engineer the devices and software that affects their lives.

Ms. Granick said “Today, that dream of internet freedom that brought me to DEF CON 20 years ago is dying. It’s dying because we started to prioritize other things.  We put other values ahead of openness and freedom.  We are now looking at security, online civility, protecting intellectual property. We are valuing these things above freedom and openness.”

She believes the internet today is less open, more regulated, and more centralized.  Much of this regulation is being propagated by other countries.  Jennifer noted that the next billion internet users will come from countries that don’t have a Bill of Rights.

Given our current trajectory, “Twenty years from now you won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that are made that affect your life.  Software will compute our data.  Software will decide whether you get a loan, whether you get a job, or whether a car runs over you or runs off a bridge.  These things will happen without you knowing why and maybe even the people that make the software will not know why either,” she says.

Jennifer observed, “The internet is going to become more like TV.  Instead of this global conversation that we envisioned 20 years ago, that attracted many of us to it.  We are seeing the internet being used to reinforce existing power structures.  This is particularly true with security.  People want and need a certain level of safety online.  We have learned that people are not able to protect themselves.  So, the idea of security has been centralized.  When we centralize security we create choke points where regulation can happen.”

She fears this regulation will be done by governments that have domestic national concerns. Not global concerns.  It will be influenced by elites, people and companies with money.  Powerful groups are going to decide who gets security and who doesn’t.

With views that may seem revolutionary to many, even Jennifer Granick sees the need for some level of regulation to the openness and freedom that she dreamed of in years gone past.  In a press conference after the keynote address, she admitted to being attracted to the relative safe and secure environment of Facebook. She indicated that this centralized and regulated form of communication is beneficial for those without the technical wherewithal to navigate the open internet.

When asked about her opinion about Active Cyber Defense, or hacking back as a defensive measure, she said “it’s illegal and a bad idea.”  When pushed to elaborate, she cited the common fear of creating a wild-wild-west environment where hackers are indiscriminately attacking each other.

As with many of the grandiose ideas of youth, it seems that practicality requires a certain level of regulation and governance.  We need rules in order to get along well in the sandbox of life.

 

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