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Max St John

Thoughts from #LondonCyber

David Cameron addressing the #LondonCyber conference

Today, Beth and I are at The London Conference on Cyberspace (yes, Cyberspace) – organised by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It’s a bit of a surreal experience – listening to David Cameron and William Hague, Yemeni blogger and activist Atiaf Alwazir, founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, Oxfam‘s Chief Executive Barbara Stocking, a number of foreign ministers (I’m currently listening to Igor Shchegolev, Russian Communication and Mass Media Minister, live translated into english on headphones) all alongside each other.

Beth, being pretty amazing and very particular about documenting things, is logging all of the interesting points from the day, live, into a Google Doc, so you can follow what’s going on, or catch up afterwards, without reading the same 140 character sound bites on twitter 20 times from different people.

From Government, we’re hearing that there needs to be an internationally recognised set of values, or principles, we can agree to globally that protects the fundamental right to free speech but that we also need to protect everyone – citizens, governments, business – from an ever-increasing level and sophistication of cyber-attacks.

It’s also reassuring to hear that governments are publicly pursuing greater transparency and improving access to services through digital, and a recognition that it needs to become more agile and open to change if it’s going to do either of these things successfully.

From the NGOs, activists and bloggers, we’re hearing that digital communications are making the delivery of projects and initiatives more effective, improving lives and acting as a catalyst for revolutions, but that if the internet is really going to deliver on all the economic and social benefits we’re talking about, there must be universal access for all.

They’re also stressing that until that happens, what’s creating most impact and driving social innovation in developing countries is simple technology, in particular SMS, used in clever ways – like Oxfam’s Pink Phone project for example.

These are just a few quick thoughts – the core question that the conference poses e.g. how do we make the most of the opportunities the internet offers and protect everyone from the threats, is not one that can be answered in one day, and will be decided by the 5 billion people who’ll use the net in the next 20 years.

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