Information Age: ‘all it promised and more’

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While students were waiting for the event to start, it was already clear that it would be an enjoyable evening. And how could it not be? The Carnegie Club of St Andrews prepared a captivating panel discussion, assembled top professionals from various fields and, most importantly, brought together a theatre full of like-minded students, eager to listen, learn and engage in this fascinating discussion Dr Louise Richardson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University, stated in her opening remarks: “Andrew Carnegie would have enjoyed this discussion today.”

Indeed he would have. The organized panel discussion was dedicated to spreading knowledge, challenging mainstream assumptions and igniting further debates. The underlying theme for this year’s event and the first of a three-part IDEAS lecture series was the relationship between privacy, security and terrorism in the current “information age.” In other words, the discussion was focused on answering questions such as: how can we balance the competing notions of security and privacy? Is monitoring of private communications justifiable from a safety standpoint? Can cyber warfare be deemed acceptable, as it is supposedly less lethal? As it has been already highlighted in the preview of the conference, the club had arranged quite a panel of professionals from various fields and with different perspectives on privacy and security.

The panel was comprised of Mr John Reid, founder and CEO of RepKnight Ltd, the fastest open source data monitoring company within the global marketplace; Mr Eduardo Ustaran, an internationally recognized expert in privacy and data protection law; and Dr Kenneth Geers, an ex-employee of NSA and NATO ambassador for Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence. The panel was chaired by Dr Richardson. It is safe to say that the event was well balanced and presented a range of views and opinions on the notions of privacy, security and social media. Despite the relatively short format of the event (a two hour panel discussion), it certainly didn’t lack in depth or breadth of ideas discussed and exchanged. One of the biggest points of debate was the amount of surveillance performed on the public. Dr Geers, drawing on his field experience, enlightened most of students on the amount of surveillance undertaken on most forms of electronic communications: “intelligence agencies, they will try to look at everything and save all of it”. However, Mr Reid, incorporating his experience as a CEO of a data analytics company, disagreed claiming that the likelihood of the government monitoring everything is virtually zero.

While the panelists might have held different, and often conflicting opinions on the given notions, all of them seemed to agree on the significance of privacy and its connection to security. As Mr Ustaran emphasized: “privacy is a necessary ingredient for self-fulfilment, for individual security and personal autonomy.” Any interference with this privacy should be properly regulated by means of a clear and transparent law system in place. It is also worth mentioning that there was an interactive element at the end of the event. Students were able to submit their own questions to be answered by the panel. This made the discussion feel more engaging and dynamic and it was a definite highlight of the evening, igniting a fascinating discussion among the panelists themselves. In particular, a debate between Mr Reid and Dr Richardson regarding Facebook “posting” etiquette and its significance for the future employability.

Long story short: “you need to be careful what you post on the Internet,” Dr Richardson said. In addition, attendees asked quite a few questions pertaining to pursuing a career in NSA. A general word of advice from Dr Geers: if you want to be recruited, study mathematics and languages. All in all, Carnegie Club’s panel discussion “Information Age: Privacy, Security and Terrorism” felt well-organized, engaging and worthwhile attending. It was everything it promised to be and more. Even though attendees might have left with more questions than answers, it was an intellectually stimulating experience. So, if you are a curious mind, craving for more answers, “go and wake up your luck” – as a Persian proverb goes – and join the Carnegie Club. As Kelly Saiz, the head of the conference, emphasized, “coming to conferences and events is the best way to learn about the energy and influence that the club has in the community.”

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