#BHUSA: Schneier Advocates For Public Interest Technologists

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In his talk at Black Hat 2019 in Las Vegas, Bruce Schneier emphasized the importance of tech experts being involved in setting public policy though the role of public interest technologist.

“No policy makers understand technology,” declared Schneier. “Technologists are in one world, and policy makers are in a different world. It’s no longer acceptable for them to be in separate worlds though as technology and policy are deeply intertwined.”

But technologists and policy makers don’t understand each other, said Schneier. “They speak different languages, they make different assumptions and they approach problem solving differently.

“Policy security has been pushed to the side. [There is] no regard for what has been built and the effect it will have.

“As internet security becomes everything security, the technology we make becomes important to overall policy. We can’t get policy right if policy makers get the technology wrong.”

To fix this, suggested Schneier, policy makers need to understand technology. “It seems impossible but it’s vital.” All policy decisions need to be made with technology in mind, he said, and policy makers need technologists on their staff. “All the major policy debates of this century will have strong cybersecurity influences,” he predicted.

To get more technologists involved in policy, Schneier suggested the answer is to get “more public interest technologists,” though he did admit that it’s still a developing term. “A lot of people doing it came out of the Obama White House," he said.

“In the last century, the people doing public policies needed to be economists. Today, people doing public policy need to be technologists,” he insisted.

Schneier also called out supply chain security as being in desperate need of technical expertise. “It’s insurmountably hard. You can’t trust anyone but have no choice but to trust everyone.

“Our industry is deeply international and any policy issues can’t just make snap decisions to ban certain technologies.” Elections too, he considered, “could use a lot of public interest technology and technologist input.”

Governments and corporations need to work together to form these jobs, said Schneier, adding that “society needs to understand that what is in the best interest of corporations isn’t necessarily in the best interest of society.” Further, he added, “technology is not politically mutual.”

Reflecting on the world we’ve built, Schneier considered “we’ve built a world where programmers have the inherent power to build technology as they see fit. That privilege needs to end. The next big disruption on the internet will not be about people, but about things. Things talking to each other and getting rid of the need for human interaction.”

As technologists, he said, we have a lot of power. “As consumers however, we don’t. As employees we have an extraordinary amount of power and we need to use that power inside companies to make change happen fast.”

The Government is largely advocating its work in this space, Schneier said, “but when IOT starts killing people, they will have to take notice.”

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