Rogue states attacking your electrical grid or water supply; credit-card data exposed by hacks on corporations; retaining cellphone metadata to disrupt terrorism plots; ever-evolving privacy settings on social media sites; and cookies -- those little electronic bread crumbs that mark your trail through the Internet! These are some of the reasons why the U.S. Consulate General in Munich teamed up with the Munich Security Conference on February 5 to organize a town hall that convened 400 Bavarian youths for a discussion about security, privacy, and the role that they can play in promoting a safe and resilient cyberspace.
State Department Coordinator for Cyber Issues Chris Painter joined a panel discussion at the event where he discussed the centrality of each of the town hall’s thematic words (“Security, Privacy, and You”) to the larger discussion on cyber issues at hand. He explained, that when juxtaposing the privacy rights of citizens with a government’s legitimate interest in protecting those citizens, we’re not talking about an either/or proposition. Rather, the United States, Germany, and other like-minded nations must balance an individual’s privacy and provide an appropriate measure of security against terrorist threats.
Moderator Sabina Wolf, a reporter from Bavarian Broadcasting, helped illustrate for the young audience how issues like cyberterrorism and data protection matter to everyday citizens. She and fellow reporter, Hendrik Loven, who took questions from the audience, offered young Germans rare access to experts in the field of cybersecurity.
Fellow panelist Clemens Binninger, a German legislator and chair of the intelligence services oversight committee, emphasized the role of personal responsibility when providing information online. Well-known German journalist Georg Mascolo, who, among other things, has interviewed Edward Snowden, called for a joint solution to striking the right security and privacy balance. The panel was rounded out by Lieutenant General Frederick “Ben” Hodges, Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe. Lt. General Hodges highlighted how democratic values always need to serve as the guiding principle when finding the right balance between security and privacy. He reminded the audience that cyber issues are also a major issue in international security, citing cyber-attacks against NATO member states and extensive Russian electronic and information warfare activities in Eastern Ukraine as examples. The audience was even treated to a surprise visit by Ambassador Ischinger, chair of the Munich Security Conference, who stopped by to applaud the young audience members’ interest in these weighty issues.
One week later, the White House hosted its own important Summit on Cyber Security and Consumer Protection. The Summit addressed how our dependence on digital networks carries certain risks -- to national security, businesses, and individual rights. There are threats to everyone who is connected in cyberspace. Cyber threats to individuals, businesses, critical infrastructure and national security have grown more diffuse, acute, and destructive. But the Summit also highlighted the many benefits these digital networks provide in terms of innovation and increasing shared prosperity on only in the United States but around the world.
About the author: Anthony Miranda serves as Consul for Public Affairs at the U.S. Consulate General in Munich.
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