Technology has enabled young people to grasp the global world: Speech by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

UK Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations delivered key note speech at Global Conference on Cyberspace 2017: Cyber4Growth in New Delhi.

"Technology has enabled young people to grasp the global world"

Good morning and Namaskar from me as well.

I was just listening very carefully – when you sit on a platform it’s always good to know what you have in common. Yes we have in common by the fact that we are all on the same platform. But with certain speakers, with one I share a similar country of origin, which is India – the country of my parents, which of course I share with Minister Ravi Prasad. I share the same continent with another speaker. And indeed in the announcements I’m sure you’ve heard, I share the same first name with another – and that was put there just to confuse people.

But I hope through our dialogue this morning and during the course of the next two days, not only are we hear to listen but we are here to learn from each other. I was listening very carefully to what Minister Prasad was saying and before that Prime Minister Modi. And it’s perhaps entirely appropriate that we find ourselves here, as we’ve heard already the largest democracy in the world, India.

But it also gives me particular pride to represent the oldest democracy in the world, the United Kingdom. And when we look back at the history of this conference, again it’s a recent history, but back in 2011 this conference took its roots, its origin, in London.

But here in India it is entirely appropriate that we meet. Why? To take up those four mantra that the minister talked about:

  • aspiration
  • delivery
  • accountability
  • engagement

This morning I’m sure as we saw the prizes being given out by the Prime Minister, we’ve aspired I know, I turned around to a fellow Minister, the minister from South Korea, and I whispered to him ‘My God, they’re getting younger every time they go up on the stage’. And that reflects what technology does. It is an enabler of the most incredible kind.

And right here when we see the bold ambitions of ‘Digital India’ – we see economic growth, we see financial inclusion. And of course the world breaking uptake of Jan Dhan bank accounts, which over time will help formalise a huge swathe of its economy. India – I’m sure we all not just acknowledge, but celebrate – has kick-started a digital and societal revolution through its ID, personal finance and technology infrastructure.

And as I said already, as we come here today and tomorrow this conference is about sharing ideas. It’s about how we stimulate global economies with new technologies and how we share the lessons that we have all learned. And in this regard I want to talk briefly about what we are doing in the United Kingdom.

The task of growing and protecting our digital economy and our digital infrastructure is something that we in the UK have made a priority. Indeed we are already seeing the fruits of that decision.

In the UK our own Silicon Valley has blossomed, around typically in a London way, a traffic interchange in London.

Tech City, as it is known affectionately – and with true British understatement - as Silicon Roundabout, is the heart of the technology start-up revolution that has spread right across the country.

London remains the tech start-up capital of Europe. It is attracting more investment in the first half of this year than any other European city.

The sector encompasses pioneering start-ups with a global profile, and small online businesses set up on dining room tables right across the country.

And as we’ve heard already, that is the incredible nature of cyberspace, of technology. Gone are the days of bricks and mortar – gone are the days when people needed to be in industry, in a particular sector for many years. Technology as an enabler has enabled young people to grasp the global world and the global opportunities it presents. Taken together, it is transforming everything we do: from the way we eat, to the way we shop, to the way we bank. Indeed the way we educate our children.

As a father of three myself, it’s incredible when I see my three year old pick up an iPad and negotiate his way – and somewhat embarrassingly I have to admit – at times he does it more efficiently and effectively than I can do so myself. But that just shows how technology is an enabler in the field of education. And altogether when you look at the UK economy, they represent seven percent of our economy, with the tech sector growing nearly three times faster than the rest of the economy in 2015.

Let’s look to the retail market. Four in five people in the UK bought something online last year. That’s more than any other country in the world – and technology has helped to create three and a half million new jobs in the UK over the past 15 years.

Earlier this year, we launched a Digital Strategy which aims to make the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business. It also aims to ensure that our digital economy works for everyone.

That strategy, ladies and gentlemen, addresses all the factors that could stimulate or constrain our digital economy. There are opportunities but there are also challenges which lie ahead for all of us.

A successful digital economy needs the right digital infrastructure. It needs people with the right skills and know-how.

And in the UK we are accelerating the development and uptake of full fibre broadband and now, as we know, 5G. We are creating digital skills partnerships between tech companies, businesses, and - importantly - voluntary organisations as well, to make sure people have the skills to participate and succeed in the digital economy. We are investing in a private-sector led productivity council that will help traditional businesses also embrace technology.

Yes, I acknowledge here we are in India, and as compared to India we in the UK may not have numbers to achieve the scale of the aadhaar system. But we do want the UK to be a world leader in digital government to make public services more effective - raising standards and lowering costs for taxpayers as we do so.

This is why we are sharing the source code and implementation techniques of our own government platforms internationally to help other governments launch their own digital programmes with less risk.

However, with those opportunities are the challenges. Perhaps the challenges as a speaker, beyond the loud air-conditioning systems that we sometimes have to deal with as we are this morning. The advantages of doing both public and private sector business online will not be fully realised if our digital assets are vulnerable to hackers, vulnerable to criminals, vulnerable to hostile governments.

Securing the infrastructure, devices and software - the working tools of a vibrant digital economy - is critical. If users and businesses cannot trust the online world, they will not fully embrace its potential. And the biggest losers will be our growth figures and the livelihoods of our people.

On one level, this means ensuring that online services that we use are safe and secure. People and their data need to be properly protected so that they can communicate privately, spend money online with confidence, and know their intellectual property is safe.

This, ladies and gentlemen, places an onus on all of us to build economies able to withstand the sort of crude attacks that have become a daily occurrence. Whether it is protecting ourselves from online fraud or identity theft, the role of governments is to foster an environment where businesses and citizens have the tools and the knowledge to provide secure online services, and make secure online choices.

As governments we must also, importantly, lead by example in protecting the critical assets that could be the subject of attack, and by working within international frameworks to deter and pursue those who threaten us online.

What we have learnt about cyber attacks in the UK, whether from organised criminals, sophisticated state actors, or indeed teenage hackers, is that the vast majority of successful attacks were entirely preventable through basic protective measures. Including this year’s global WannaCry ransomware attack, which affected, yes, the United Kingdom, but it affected India, indeed it affected nearly every country represented at this conference in this room here this morning.

And that is why the UK is investing nearly £2 billion over five years to transform cybersecurity and make the UK the safest place in the world to live and do business online.

We are looking at how to ensure internet-connected consumer products are ‘secure by default’, so that devices are developed with security built-in from the start.

We are also investing more money into training and addressing the systemic challenges of developing the next generation of cybersecurity specialists.

And we also hope that many will end up working at our flagship centre, the National Cyber Security Centre in London. As the UK’s National Technical Authority, it not only manages all our national cybersecurity incidents, but it also carries out real-time threat analysis, and gives expert advice to businesses.

We must also be realistic about how much individuals and companies can do to protect themselves from online attacks. We should expect them to get the basics in place, and that is why much of our guidance focuses on exactly that; but government is in a unique position to do more. One common complaint is that governments tell industry they are not doing enough on cyber security without understanding costs.

We have responded to this charge by working directly with industry to reduce costs – an example being using technology to detect and filter out more of those crude high volume attacks that hit the UK.

One example of this is piloting DMARC - an email authentication system that in its first year has blocked over 300 million fraudulent emails falsely claiming to be from government.

Now, instead of having to warn the public not to open dodgy emails, we are preventing those emails from arriving in the first place.

And also, it is important to create a trusted digital environment that drives growth and is more than just about technical security. Disregarding privacy and freedoms will not win the consent and support of our citizens.

Their trust can only be won, and must be won, with transparency and respect for freedoms and fundamental rights - such as the right to freedom of expression that we are all committed to internationally. These rights must be protected online as they are offline.

At the first of these conferences, as I said, in 2011, our then Foreign Secretary, now Lord William Hague, set out seven principles to encourage effective cooperation between governments, businesses and organisations.

These included the need for users to show tolerance and respect for diversity of language, culture and ideas – perhaps no more poignant than right here in India – and also the need to keep cyberspace open to the free flow of information and expression. These principles are every bit as relevant today as they were then in 2011.

And to this end, the UK is working on developing a Digital Charter, with the aim of agreeing how our people and businesses should behave online in order to create an environment for societies and economies to flourish.

I think we all recognise the potential of the internet to transform opportunities for people right across the globe. We saw that in this hall this morning. Secure digital technologies can revolutionise the lives of the poor as we heard from Minister Prasad, unlock development and prosperity, and accelerate progress towards the global goals for sustainable development.

And that is why the UK is investing millions in capacity building projects worldwide that combine inclusive internet access with cyber security policy and skills.

And to date the UK has funded projects in over fifty countries - from helping develop national cyber security strategies in Sri Lanka and providing tailored training on cyber crime investigations in Nigeria.

We have been working with many of you in this room, not least through the global forum for cyber expertise. And I have been pleased and impressed to see the incredible energy and ideas that have gone into forging a new global agenda for cyber security capacity building.

To conclude, if I may, ladies and gentlemen, one clear lesson I have learned from our work at home and abroad is that everyone has a role to play. Everyone has a role to play in sustaining a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace. And also that governments cannot do this alone – and nor should anyone want us to.

This is about partnership. It is about collaborative working. And we can all help to roll the pitch, but as we all know, the game will only be won through teamwork - involving businesses, civil society, and citizens. Only through that partnership can we create the right level of ambition, creativity and potential.

Your security, our collective security: it is our security. Your prosperity, our collective prosperity: it is our prosperity. Let us all work together to harness technology and build a future that works for everyone.

I am reminded in closing of the famous words of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, who said we must become the change we wish to see. Let’s become that change in cyberspace.

Thank you.

Published 23 November 2017