As the battle between privacy and security rages between Apple and the FBI, it has become apparent to many that there is a need for digital equilibrium to restore balance. That, in fact, is the goal—to understand and define the balance between privacy and security—of the new Digital Equilibrium Project, a group that is being formed by top IT executives and thought leaders to help lead the way forward for the IT industry and policy makers alike.
“I helped to organize it [Digital Equilibrium Project] with McKinsey’s help with the idea that people on various sides were talking past one another, often without the facts,” former Executive Chairman of RSA Art Coviello told eWEEK. “Our participants bring significant networks and resources to bear from themselves and the organizations they work with, and we’re confident we have the resources to execute on the mission.”
The idea of bringing together a multistakeholder group that talks about collaboration in security is not a new one, with multiple efforts announced in both the private and public sector over the past decade. In many cases, the groups are announced at an industry event such as Black Hat or the RSA Conference, which is the case with Digital Equilibrium—it will debut its foundational paper, “Balancing Security and Privacy in the Connected World,” at the RSA Conference on March 1.
Coviello said that while there have been other groups announced at the RSA Conference in the past, typically those efforts are one-sided: security firms that are concerned about a piece of legislation or privacy groups battling specific government actions.
“We hope to create a groundswell of thinking—not through acrimonious and emotional debate, but through active listening and fact-based dialogue so we can we make progress before it is too late,” he said.
Of particular note, Coviello emphasized that the Digital Equilibrium Project is totally multilateral, with representation from some of the best minds on all sides.
“We are not just making a demand or arguing against a position, but we have done significant work to put an actual construct in place so that the dialogue can lead to action,” he said.
The actual construct is the paper that the Digital Equilibrium Project will be officially releasing next week. The group is addressing root causes, not just specific events of the day, said Coviello, adding that there is a recognition that the solution must be multilateral and represent all the necessary viewpoints—and that it must address underlying constructs such as the norms of behavior and basic questions such as the public/private nature of the Internet.
While the official “Balancing Security and Privacy in the Connected World” paper is not set to be publicly available until March 1, Coviello did provide some insight into the conclusions and recommendations of the paper.
“Our collective view is that time is running out to start this debate—we’re quickly heading toward a crisis point, and we need to start acting now,” he said. “Our conclusion is that only through a multilateral approach and a fact-based dialogue addressing components of the problem in parallel, creating the necessary solution frameworks, can progress be made. And time is of the essence.”
Digital Equilibrium Project Looks to Balance Privacy, Security
The current public debate between the privacy of Apple users and the security needs of the FBI has brought the issue to the mainstream consciousness this week, and as such, the Digital Equilibrium Project is very timely. That said, the Digital Equilibrium Project itself isn’t likely to actually solve the Apple-FBI dispute.
“Our work would not by itself solve the dispute any more than the U.S. Constitution provides specific laws for specific crimes,” Coviello said. “Our work would provide the shared beliefs, guiding principles and similar constructs to provide the common ground where these disputes can be resolved productively.”
Overall today, the problem is there is no common ground for discussion, which is why there are such polarized, entrenched positions, according to Coviello. Fundamentally, the belief and the promise of the Digital Equilibrium Project is that a balance can actually be achieved between privacy and security, but for it to happen, it requires new thinking from the ground up.
“All sides have been arguing based on their own biased views for years now,” he said. “The result is less privacy and less security. It’s time for a new approach.”
Coviello added the problem is too complex to make progress without breaking it down into subsegments. By breaking down the problem, having open minds, and creating frameworks that provide flexibility and allow for ongoing change, the hope is that the current situation can be improved.
The first goal of the Digital Equilibrium group is to change the public debate immediately and get more focus on the underlying issues and not the news of the day.
“The longer-term goal is to bring the parties together to create that common ground and provide that ‘constitution’ the set of shared beliefs, principles and norms that can frame our decision-making, policy-making and dispute resolution,” he said.
Besides Coviello, those involved in the Digital Equilibrium Project include Stewart Baker, formerly the first Assistant Secretary of Department of Homeland Security General Counsel of the National Security Agency (NSA); Tim Belcher, former CTO of RSA; Jim Bidzos, chairman and CEO of Verisign; Dr. Ann Cavoukian, executive director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University; Larry Clinton, president and CEO of the Internet Security Alliance; Michael Chertoff, executive chairman of The Chertoff Group and former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security; Richard Clarke, former White House adviser and now chairman and CEO of Good Harbor Security Risk Management; Edward Davis, former Boston Police Department commissioner; Brian Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer at Veracode; J. Trevor Hughes, president and CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals; John Michael McConnell, former director of the NSA and director of National Intelligence; Nuala O’Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology; and JR Williamson, corporate chief information officer at Northrup Grumman.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.