The challenges of living in an era of rapid ICT innovation

ComputerHackiongThis week’s tech news took on a bleak hue when DarkHotel articles started popping up everywhere. The story is simple: some corporate executives using hotel provided internet access have been targeted by hackers for their (presumably) juicy data. It’s been going on for years, at an international scale and it manages to reach that little paranoid spot in us that’s so easily fuelled by the general blur of tentative tech skills and fast paced IT changes. Combine this with a codename worthy of 007 and you have an instant journalistic boon.

I’ll take a step back here for a disclaimer: I’m not trying to trivialize the case or mock people’s reactions to it in any way. I will, however, bypass the obvious tangent on data security and user ICT competence and try to draw a bigger arc, going back to a not-so-obvious link in last month’s news.

In the last week of October, reports came in of another constitutional rights and civil liberties debate ignited by the excessive ICT policy implemented by a school district in Tennessee. The policy gave the school the right to monitor and control all activity performed through its network, search and seize all student electronic devices and monitor student’s social media activity off-campus. To make matters worse, opt-out was withheld and non-complying students were excluded from ICT based school activities.

The connection may seem forced, but both cases ultimately arise from a society poorly equipped to deal with its technological evolution. There is, as it should be, much talk about data: data security, personal data, data privacy and all the ethics that go with these. The issue is gaining public visibility with each high profile case in the media but the debate has limited use for the general public as long as deeper issues are not addressed. ICT advancements have changed our society, challenging our everyday truths, changing our definitions. What constitutes a sufficient education, what does literacy mean, how do you balance individual rights and inherited power structures? Both cases above are simple and inevitable at the same time. Simple, because both problems would not have arisen if participants had sufficient ICT, legal and ethical competences to know better. Inevitable, because our current educational standards and social structures were not designed to deal with these issues as a basic component of day-to-day activities.

This rant has been brought to you today courtesy of some less than optimistic reactions I occasionally get when people ask me about my work on the CaSMa project. They agree it might be interesting for me, but see little relevance in it for their daily lives. For as long as I have the strength to put on my academic hat, I will continue to argue that every discussion counts. CaSMa might investigate the ethics of personal data starting from an academic, policy and business setting but these are essential dimensions of our daily lives. It is important that we continue to question and challenge them, so that we can better reshape them for our future needs. Today’s CEOs might not be experts in data security and today’s school boards might not know how to best handle issues around new technology, but the future is being shaped now. Finding out how to best do that is our ultimate challenge.

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