Nonetheless, I had been following (and writing about) the NSA saga and new forms of digital terrorism, so I felt compelled then as I am now to offer contributions/ask him questions: Has cyberspace become the next frontier for terrorism and, if so, what implications does this have for free speech and privacy? How has the very definition of state sovereignty and national security changed, and how will it continue to change, as technological advances continue at an exacerbated rate? Will the ‘wars’ of the future be waged online? Will the history books one day describe men like Assange and Snowden as martyrs, pioneers that led to a global revolution of free data? To the professor’s credit, he calmly and patiently tried to give me answers to these questions which could be (and likely are) the subject of about ten different types of dissertation.
But my interest in the fields wasn’t going away, and has inevitably only continued to be stoked by recent experiences and events. I say inevitably because the day-to-day media coverage of stories pertaining to cyber-security and Big Data is immense. My simple daily FaceBook newsfeed scroll today showed me that the top trending story was about how Edward Snowden made a surprise appearance today during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s yearly national call in show. My e-mail inbox is awash with notifications about the potential concerns associated with the ‘Heartbleed’ bug, including one today from Oxford University’s director of IT risk management that links to a blog using my favourite pun (so far) pertaining to the bug. A friend from Canadia messaged me asking if I had seen that the first Heartbleed hack case arrest had occurred in our fair homeland. A Daily Mail front page story on the Heartbleed bug was plastered on the wall of my local corner store in such a way that it was impossible to miss it when I went out for groceries today. I feel that if I made every effort to block out anything cyber-security related for even just a day, a carrier pigeon would find a way to fly onto my dorm room window stoop with a Glenn Grunwald tweet.
Is the universe trying to send me a message here? Should cyber-security and cyber-terrorism be the focus of the next stage of my academic career once I move on from Oxford to a post-doc in Hong Kong? I can’t help but imagine that there is a generation of young legal, criminological and sociological (amongst other disciplines) researchers out there wondering how they could continue their academic careers in the future without inevitably discussing or focusing on the digital frontier.
Cyber-(in)security, media coverage and concern about it, seems to be all around us. And this was the case in the pre-Snowden and Assange eras. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my father over a decade ago. His wisdom and foresight never ceases to amaze me. I was an avid internet user and social networker even back then, before the internet had even come close to reaching the levels of societal saturation and significance that it has today. He cautioned me about what I said and did on the internet. He tried to bestow his fatherly wisdom in pointing out to me that anything I typed, bought, shared, etc. whilst on a computer could easily fall into someone else’s hands. Like most teens, I chalked his concern up to naivety and generational ignorance. With the benefit of hindsight, I see now that he knew more about the way that the world would evolve than I could have imagined.
The Heartbleed bug has further exacerbated media (and academic) attention and saturation pertaining to cyber-security and the digital frontier. Researchers have argued that browsing speeds will slow in the aftermath of the bug, as websites try to catch up and update their security systems. Millions of Android devices (and surely millions of devices of other types) are awaiting fixes for the bug. Several technology firms are urging their users to change their passwords for e-mails, file storage, banking, even university library credentials. Granted, these are certainly #FirstWorldProblems, but they put into perspective the fragility of information, privacy and data security in an age of cyber-(in)security, and raise questions about how researchers like myself may orient their focus and efforts towards the next frontier.
Recent months and years have seen unprecedented and historical revelations about the era we now live in. Whether you view Edward Snowden (and/or Julian Assange and/or the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide that are committed to the open release of sensitive information) as martyrs, spies or 'criminally irresponsible' persons likely depends on your profession, worldview, political stance, nationality and a whole host of other factors. Putting aside value judgments for a minute, the sheer volume and societal impact of the revelations that have come to light over the course of the last year is remarkable and unfathomable. They have resulted in calls for the reform of how data is collected, they have landed the Washington Post and Guardian the Pulitzer Prize, and they have caused millions of people from across the globe to ask important questions about what life will be like in the next frontier.
The Heartbleed bug is only a small microcosm (albeit one with immediate, far-reaching and, paradoxically, still yet unknown consequences for global cyber-security) of a larger societal issue that this writer will be keenly watching in the days, months and years to come. Cyber-(in)security will continue to rise in prominence as a key societal issue in the future, and along with it there will be attendant questions and concerns pertaining to privacy, free speech and security.