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Madam Vaira Vike-Freiberga at Global Media and Cyber-Terrorism Conference

Madam Vaira Vike-Freiberga, member of Boston Global Forum’s Board of Thinkers, President of  World Leadership Alliance Club de Madrid, and former Latvia’s President, made a speech about Cyber-Terrorism in the Boston Global Forum’s October 3 Conference “Global Media and Cyber-Terrorism” at Harvard University. The conference is moderated by Governor Michael Dukakis.

She also delivered a talk about  buiding a Framework for Peace and Security in the Pacific in the BGF Distinguished lecture series.

Watch her speech here:

Below is the transcript of her speech of Cyber-Terrorism.

Thank you governor for the introduction, ladies and gentleman and it is a pleasure and honor to join this distinguished group of specialist and I must say on the onset that I am by no means an expert of any sort in all things cybernetic. My husband rather is, he sort of looks after that side of it in our families and in our daily affairs. And I think that in most families today what we frequently find is that the acquaintance with the modern electronic means of communication is highest among some members of a family but particularly the youngest ones. We have a grandson that just turned four a few days ago and i have a feeling that he was practically weened on an iPod and truly his favorite toy is this new medium of communication.

The topic that we will be concerned next year but is already starting to concern you here in the Boston Global Forum of cyber terrorism and cyber crime takes various forms. You open your daily newspapers and this morning, for instance, you would see a headline saying that 75 million peoples accounts have been compromised by a cyber attack. On the files, on the records, of that large institution and it’s clear that if your bank account and access to it comes in the wrong hands, this is very bad news for any individual involved, but when you multiple that by not just the original million that the company admitted but by 75 million, you realize the enormity of the harm that could be done. But we have also had cyber attacks already on countries that have been traced back to other countries that obviously don’t have the friendliest of intentions, to put it mildly. Therefore, security, in a broader sense of the word, for any system of government, data keeping, records, but also for ordinary things and of ordinary life which have part of our society and on which we rely to operate properly, anyone of them be it your airplane reservation or the way your airplane is being piloted, that are potential targets of terrorist attacks.

But I’d like to mention that there’s another aspect of availability of information in cyber space, if you’d like and that is the recruitment of potential terrorist by spreading ideologies that by devious means could attract the attention of young people then slowly suck them in, into activities, groups that are. It’s almost like the brainwashing that one gets in sects. They get a feeling being received in a friendly manner, of being found important, on being supported. I have been told by priest, for instance, in Paris suburbs, in their attempts to get youngster to help the church, they are competing with molars(?), who are offered to every youngster you comes to Friday prayers, and from youngsters from dis-advantaged neighborhoods. This is a very simple and ordinary temptation which eventually leads to recruitment, to belonging in groups that not only have very fanatical convictions and ideologies but that consider violence and random violence, which is what terrorism is, as a tool of preference for advancing their ideological needs.Then, of course, there is a very technical side, if you wish to do harm on a random an massive scale, the technical expertise required to do that varies. It can range from the extreme and simple to the complicated and its a bit alarming to see on the internet for instances that there are recipes freely available for fabricating harmful cocktails, there are recipes available for synthesizing drugs in your basement or in your kitchen. Drugs, which moreover, because of their chemical structure have a few atoms that are not the same as those that are on lists of illegal substances and therefore, for a while, in actually really be put on the market and frequently, because of the way they’re being manufactured or because of their actually physiological effects are extremely dangerous to say teenagers of high school age to whom these are freely distributed at a very low price with a promise of either ecstasy or a unique experience and this in many ways, is the downside, or the flip side if you’d like of having available to us in cyberspace through various means of various dictionaries.

By now, maybe not the complete knowledge of everything humanity has ever acquired but pretty close to it. If an ancient days the library of Alexandria and its scrolls and its template was a repository for all that human kind had achieved up to that point, we must remember the sad lessons of history where the library of Alexandria was attacked and vandalized and their Sara-pean league equally destroyed utterly either one persuasion of fanatics or another. I say this because I have the privilege of being apart of the international advisory board of the library of Alexandria and Alexandria as a city is extremely proud of having, with international collaboration and supporting, reconstructed that historical monument to humanities thirst for knowledge, and made a beautiful center of international intellectual collaboration and activities, but the repository, if you like the digital repository of the worlds knowledge today, is as, in many ways, as vulnerable in any one particular location where it might be deposited, the Library of Congress if unique you may digitalized and that is something that would help, you have a backup but the original documents are irreplaceable. We just completed in Latvia our National Library new building by world famous Latvian architect who has been an American citizen for the last decade Gunārs Birkerts and this library possess irreplaceable incunabula which if they were to perish well we would have their their digital traces but we would not have the originals.

I’d like to address another aspect of the cyberspace and that is the general information that we get available to us no trust say, the words to a song that you particularly liked when you were twenty and you remember how the words to the third verse of the third sum of it and you can instantly look it up on the internet or who was the actor who played the leading role in some movie that you remember, if the movie happens to be Casablanca, you probably don’t need that kind of cyber support for it but otherwise it’s available at the tip of your fingers. But when it comes information that is not simply factual and straightforward but the requires inevitable some aspect of selection and interpretation to it, then I think we come up to potential dangers, but just of terrorism but of extremism fanaticism of racial hatred of general aggressive-ity of one group of individuals against another. mischief, if you’d like, of a very large scale. The propaganda, the political propaganda that we consider as natural as part of the Democratic, multiparty system, can take a nasty turn when it becomes a single source of information political situation in one’s country in the world or on the part of totalitarian systems. Any totalitarian system in the past has always managed to control the flow of information available to its citizens, the flow of information, control of information is one of the means of imposing one’s will and is a sort of terror even if it is committed  in the name of the state or of the ruling regime. The ability of citizens to evaluate things for themselves is a dangerous one for totalitarian systems but is also one that free countries and democratic countries or countries in transition should remember puts a heavy burden on the ordinary citizens. I had the pleasure of chairing a committee on the freedom and diversity of the media in the EU, and we produced a report that was deposited a couple years ago, and we discovered that the plurality of media the availability of diverse viewpoints and opinions is not a simple of a matter as it may seem and it’s not necessarily as easily achieved as we assume, that if there are free elections in the country and if it has all the trappings of democracy that there by all it’s citizens are able to function, if you’d like, with the full powers and decision-making authority the democracy on principle affords to each and every citizen. It is very clear media are the way by which the ordinary citizen as a window on the world, nobody can be present everywhere at once. Nobody can witness importance events personally, you’re lucky if you sometimes see them, even at a distance.

The media are truly the deserving of their name that they are the medium by which information flows and the technical infrastructures of media, whether by print medium or the electronic medium, in a way the technicalities become secondary to the fact of the editorial choice, the editorial content of what is presented to the public. This, I believe, is an important issue that has be to addressed equally in all countries regardless of the levels of democratic freedom they enjoy. In those countries that see themselves, as free, open, and democratic, vigilance I think, is the order of the day. One should remain vigilant about maintaining diversity of opinions available, a diversity of sources of information and no human being having the privilege of claiming to have the absolute truth of their deposal and the absolute ultimate verities to present to you, one should to so with all due humility and allow for other viewpoints to be expressed.

But what is truly alarming is that in many countries which are making progress, for instance in economic terms which are like China lifting millions out of dire poverty, the desire to control information about the government remains as strong as ever and we also recently, the Russian president announcing that they are going to take measures, to have special servers, for information the pertains to Russia. The argumentation for it is presented in the name of security, of national security and of course this is to some extent a legitimate concern for any country .

Security of information concerning its own internal affairs but it very quickly become an instrument of political control and an instrument of keeping people in the dark about what is happening. We hear that on mainland China, the media have been completely silent about the demonstrations happening on Hong Kong. Now, you might say the news that the daily news can only report so much information, if you open any channel in America, you may object to the narrowness of the range of topic that it presents to your attention and I suppose the Chinese may make equal claims, well some people gathering on the street is not news worthy enough to deserve a place on our national news, but you can clearly see what the political implications are of these sort of choices.

So, you see we have here a situation where the technical infrastructure of media which in some ways is subsidiary it is secondary to the content, to the editorial approach, to the choice, the view point you are going to present but then we come full circle because if somebody comes up with a new device, someone invents a way of circumventing data firewalls that some country has built around its internet or the controls that it has imposed on its media, I think that there would be a wonderful opportunity not just for somebody to make a future but for the people concerned as its customers to have new opportunities for exercising their God-given right to actually pick and choose what it is they think about certain events on the world and where they, really we consider part of democratic rights that people should have, the right of access to information that is as broad, as diversified and as objective as possible. But I have had journalist, professional journalist from well respected international television companies admit to me that even if you go, for instance on Tahrir Square when there used to be these demonstrations in Cairo, your camera can only point in one direction and that means that even in such a large event where a million people might be present, the scene you choose to focus on, the face you do put on your camera is going to be one that you choose as operator of that camera or later as editor of the news presentation. We have before us ladies and gentlemen, unheard of and unlimited potentials for new access to information or the most unimaginable kind. This is bonanza, it is a, sometimes it seems overwhelming but it is a wonderful privilege to have lived that long and to have experienced this immense explosion of information available to us, but at the same time the challenges that it poses and the misuses, the potential misuses clearly must be kept in mind and so I think I have to conclude again with a second idea that even as we are excited about the possibilities we must remain extremely vigilant and careful about the dangers that said media impose to human rights, to human freedoms, and to civil liberties in the larger sense of the word.

Thank you very much for your attention.



BGF Leader Series: Distinguished Lecture of Latvia’s President

Live-stream: Global Media and CyberTerrorism Conference