Speaking at Imperial, GCHQ chief Jeremy Fleming highlighted the UK’s unique role leading the next phase of the global digital revolution.
Delivering the annual Vincent Briscoe lecture at Imperial’s Institute for Security Science and Technology, Fleming warned of the geopolitical challenges facing the UK. Key technologies in cyberspace risk being shaped by “players who don’t share our values or follow the rules,” as fundamental changes in the tech environment influence our economy and society, he said.
“The UK really is a global cyber power - a big animal in the digital world. But historic strength does not mean we can assume we will be in the future,” Fleming said.
“In the real world, scientific consensus agrees we face a climate emergency. In the digital environment, we face another existential threat to our way of life as the old order is replaced by players who don’t share our values or follow the rules. To stay relevant, the UK and like-minded allies are recognising that the landscape is shifting and therefore, there is a pressing need to act.”
We have built an ecosystem that is too vulnerable to compromise by criminals and states Jeremy Fleming Director, GCHQ
Fleming identified challenges in the control for key technologies: “There have been concerted campaigns to dominate international Standards developing organisations, where technical protocols and processes are designed and approved. And we’ve seen determined efforts to use issues of common concern – like climate change – to gain footholds in new tech markets.
“Smart cities are a case in point. They provide great promise to make urban areas more efficient and less polluting through the use of data. The vision is for smart cities to know everything about things, but nothing about individuals. They should help you navigate life, not track your movements. But unchecked, or implemented in the wrong way, there’s a risk that we will import technology which hardwires data collection in ways that go against the interests and values of open, democratic societies.
“Digital currencies are another example. Their introduction by some governments hold significant promise to revolutionise the finance sector, making it more resilient, innovative and competitive. But designed without liberal values, they could be used to enable significant intrusions into the lives of citizens and companies in those countries, and those they do business with globally.
Of these challenges, Fleming said: “Without action it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West. So, we are now facing a moment of reckoning.
Overseas investment and global digital trade are essential to our future. Pulling up the draw-bridge is obviously not an option. Jeremy Fleming Director, GCHQ
“The internet was designed with access rather than security in mind. That’s what makes it so ubiquitous, but the flip side is that we have built an ecosystem that is too vulnerable to compromise by criminals and states.
“In the face of rapid change, society as a whole is often slow to understand and react to the implications of new technologies. Companies not Governments have rightly led the way. But their investment in shaping future standards naturally favours their commercial interests, and sometimes those don’t align with the interests of ordinary citizens."
“Pulling up the draw-bridge is not an option”
Referring to the UK Government’s Integrated Review, which placed science and technology at the centre of future security and defence policy, Fleming stated that global challenges like climate change and pandemics demand global responses: “Overseas investment and global digital trade are essential to our future. Pulling up the draw-bridge is obviously not an option.”
Ensuring that the UK maintains its unique role in the next phase of the global digital revolution will rely on investment in skills and technology:
- An emphasis on openness as a source of prosperity
- A more robust position on security and resilience
- A renewed commitment to the UK as a force for good in the world
- An increased determination to seek multilateral solutions to challenges like climate change
- Deepening our relationships with allies and partners around the world, as well as moving more swiftly and with greater agility
This adds up to a plan for the creation of a strategic advantage for the UK and our allies based on the rule of law, shared ethics, and common good. Jeremy Fleming Director, GCHQ
In the future, Fleming said, the UK will be seen as a country that supports academia and industry to play their part. Careers in cyber and technology will be within reach to all and we will welcome the next generation of talent from every corner of the four nations of the UK.
He added: “If we get it right, new policies, informed by deep expertise, will influence and shape markets – protecting and growing the most critical technologies. Government will create new markets, focusing investment on the sectors and technologies that are best for the UK. The country will support the growth of a diverse set of companies that can provide these technologies, and that continue to work in accordance with our values. We will work with other like-minded nations to pool resources and knowledge to target the global “moon-shots”.
"Taken together this adds up to a plan for the creation of a strategic advantage for the UK and our allies based on the rule of law, shared ethics, and common good."
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
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