EU institutions should engage more politically to induce change in HIV awareness
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Nearly 122,000 are unaware of their HIV infection in Europe. To decrease the number of people who are diagnosed late or are unaware of their infection, new strategies are required to expand targeted HIV testing …

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Home » Cyber Security

Cyberspace, the final frontier

Submitted by on 30 Nov 2016 – 15:09

By Victor Negrescu MEP, Member, European Parliament

 The emergence of a new social environment of human practices and interaction has been apparent for quite some time. The increasing number of actions which no longer require a physical presence or a material manifestation, the number of significant interactions which take place “online”, the large prevalence of digital or automatic technologies in shaping our life and our environment from the smallest details to the largest and most consequential events or phenomena, all point towards the emergence of cyberspace as a frontier of social life and reality. And, as any frontier space in human history, cyberspace is fraught with dangers and remarkable opportunities, an almost anarchic sense of freedom and passion for deregulation and the emergence of its own proper set of rules.

It is safe to say that the transformations brought about by digital technology in the last decades are here to stay. And, contrary to what many pundits think, I believe that the transformations which have occurred have a deeper sense of permanence than many are willing to admit. The qualitative and quantitative dynamics of the past years will continue, at a rate faster than we would have been ready to admit ten years ago. We were born into a world where most inhabitants hadn’t seen a phone or even less had a phone call. Today, the absolute majority of the world’s inhabitants own a handheld device. Undoubtedly, this trend will continue. And just as a decade ago, its speed and width is hard to estimate.

We nevertheless know that this process, which entails a speeding-up of the effects and practices of globalization, with all the identity consequences this embodies, will continue. Social networks will continue to be more than a fad of leisure time and have probably an even stronger influence on our lives, while the interconnectedness between devices and our social environment will intensify – the internet of things might be a project with obvious quantitative advantages, but will also mark a profound qualitative transformation of our societies, or, indeed of our emerging global society which is probably embodied the best in the global social networks.

This new environment is marked by many security challenges. On a frontier where personal identity is in the end reduced to a set of data, marking the boundaries between what constitutes the domain of private life and the public sphere constitutes a challenge. Accordingly, identity theft and the security of private transactions are all issues which require increased cooperation not only between governmental agencies or nation states, but also between public and private actors.

Moreover, as an increasingly larger number of our vital infrastructures have a profoundly important digital component, their security, or, conversely, their vulnerability is a matter of concern for responsible power holders. The proliferation of cyber attacks raises the question as to whether the establishment of international regimes concerned with limiting the occurrence of cybercrimes should not be a priority of national diplomats. In the end, if outer space is subject to military and political rules agreed by international actors, I see no reason why cyberspace should not become the object of international agreements, perhaps modelled or based on the long experience we have in combating international crime or terrorism or in promoting arms control and disarmament. The consequences of cyber attacks on vital civilian infrastructure elements are too dire to contemplate without considering the need for international and mutually beneficial agreements.

Cyberspace is also the background for a significant transformation of our political environment. We need to stop treating social networks and the virtual environment as a classical means of communication – sending messages and expecting our target public to react. The particular nature of cyberspace is that it is a “living” media, which distorts, constructs, interprets, reacts and even generates new messages. Social networks are not only a tool – they are a true medium of interaction which is beyond the control of the emitter as in classical communication. Given the prevalence of the virtual interaction for our youngest citizens and the avenues for self-organization, I believe that responsible European leaders need to look closer at the opportunities that cyberspace creates for enacting a more transparent and democratic political system, for enacting true and wide systems of political decision making and consultation.

Much has been written about the economical challenges and potential of this new frontier of human existence. And it is true that the last years have seen an unparalleled wave of continuous improvement, development, research and innovation, a trend which requires a continuous stream of well-prepared professionals. European learning systems must deliver these professionals, ensuring that unemployment (especially amongst youth) decreases and that European companies remain competitive in the global environment. At the same time, we must balance these requirements with the reality that digitalization can lead to short-term loss of jobs and with the imperative of maintaining an adequate level of consumer satisfaction and protection.

Cyberspace is the final frontier of political actions. The rules it is governed by need to be encompassed by the effort of responsible political leaders, while its opportunities need to be grasped at face value. Far from being the new Eldorado or a jungle fraught with dangers and threats, cyberspace is, to a large extent, the frontier of our reality. And it is up to us, cyber-inhabitants, to a larger or lesser degree, to decide what its future would look like.