Digital futurist warns of more govt vs tech clashes

5 Aug 2010

America’s leading digital futurist and US President Barack Obama’s IT guru Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation has warned that the proliferation of mobile devices and internet technologies means more clashes between technology companies and governments.

For much of this past year, search giant Google was at loggerheads with the Chinese government over alleged hacking and cyber snooping while over the past week Canadian smartphone maker RIM has been threatened with shut down in India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emerites.

“The recent activity by governments to regulate RIM’s services reflects the challenges that many IT businesses face operating in a global economy,” said Atkinson, who was technology adviser to Obama’s transition team.

“While businesses should be good corporate citizens and respect civil liberties, ultimately every nation must determine for itself where it draws the line for appropriate levels of free speech, government access to information, privacy and other rights.

“Balancing government’s interest in accessing information for national security purposes and the interests of individuals and organisations to safeguard privacy and confidentiality is not easy. This balancing act grows more complicated each day with the proliferation of new devices and telecommunications technologies,” Atkinson said.

He said that countries that want to succeed in the global economy should embrace policies that support IT-enabled innovation, which is likely to be more important to national security in the long-term than temporary crackdowns on certain technologies.

When used appropriately, he said, information technology and innovation can enhance prosperity and the quality of life for all people.

“Governments and private sector stakeholders should work toward arrangements that address government’s twin interests in protecting security and advancing innovation and prosperity,” Atkinson added.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years