Davos 2015 Takes Aim at the Future of the Internet (and Cyber-security)

The annual Word Economic Forum in Davos is a renowned event that engages political, business, academic and other leaders of society in shaping a collaborative global agenda. This year's program appears even more stimulating than usual, covering a variety of technology topics and featuring a whole section devoted at exploring tomorrow's online issues.

A discussion between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum founder -- "Global Responsibilities in a Digital Age" -- will address the new responsibilities facing governments, telcos and web companies in our digital age. According to Edward Snowden's revelations in 2013, the US National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped the personal cell phone of Angela Merkel and kept tabs on Deutsche Telekom and other strategic high-tech companies. Even if a recent investigation by Germany's top prosecutor has found no evidence that the tapping actually ever occurred, nevertheless Germany seems to be the country with the highest level of surveillance by the NSA. In her harsh reaction, the German Chancellor threw out even the idea of a "European Internet" -- only to forget that the German intelligence services were also involved in meta-data gathering operations carried by the NSA, as explained by Der Spiegel.

Another promising panel, Fighting Shadows, will feature top experts on computer security and cyber-threats, including Jean-Paul Laborde, Jonathan Zittrain, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Bradford L. Smith and Eugene Kaspersky.

Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder at Harvard's Berkman Center has spent many years researching the future of the Internet, and his 2009 book (under the same title) provides an important and still current overview of the Net evolution and its most urgent problems -- such as privacy, copyright, security and related regulations. In June 2013, Jonathan Zittrain co-authored also a pivotal report produced by the Council on Foreign Relations, directed by Adam Segal and involving also Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter (New America Foundation) -- "Defending an Open, Global, Secure, and Resilient Internet". The report proves still very relevant, especially for its detailed analysis about the many reasons preventing US and Europe in establishing a shared approach to address and draft common regulations about the Internet. On the other hand, it is true that the Net censorship variously applied by Russia, China and some Arab countries was counter-productive and had negative consequences at economic and social levels for those same countries.

It will be interesting to also hear the opinion of Eugene Kaspersky, one of Russia's richest men and CEO of what is arguably the most important and well-known Internet security company in the world. In a 2012 profile, Wired magazine described him as very close to Putin and part of the National secret services -- but Kaspersky was quick to point out that those were all lies and his company was simply serving millions of customers throughout the world. It's worth adding that some sources reported that in 2008 the UK intelligence tried (to no avail) to attack Kaspersky's security systems.

The same panel will also feature Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia, a country that in the past has suffered many cyber attacks and that received harsh criticism at the recent Computer Chaos Club conference for an evident lack of security in its online voting procedures.

Ongoing events and radical changes affecting today's society require a reassessment of power balances and technological advancements, while also reaffirming the urgency, already expressed in several public events, to draft and implement common policies at an International level. As rightly writes the Council on Foreign Relations: "Determining the boundaries of cyber war is an area where the United States cannot go it alone." I would add: and neither Europe can go alone.