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Privacy: THE Hot Topic at #RSAC

Mar 11, 2016 | by Peter Beardmore |

Data privacy dominated the discourse at RSA Conference last week, unlike any hot-topic of years past. If you're fascinated by this debate, as I am, and missed-out on some or all of RSAC this year, here is a list of talks that caught my attention. In addition to these keynote talks, the discussion spilled-out into many of the sessions, which are not freely available. (All the more reason to attend the next RSAC!)

In his opening keynote The Sleeper Awakes, RSA President Amit Yoran said "Weakening encryption is solely for the ease and convenience of law enforcement in going after petty criminals. No credible terrorist or foreign intelligence service would ever use technology that was knowingly weakened."

Shortly after, upon receiving The RSA Conference Lifetime Achievement Award, Art Coviello said "The issue of privacy and security is the defining issue of our time. Whether we solve for it, or not, will determine if we are its masters or its victims"

Later in the week, Mr. Coviello hosted a panel: Beyond Encryption: Why We Can't Come Together on Security and Privacy. His distinguished guests included Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security; Admiral Mike McConnel, former Director of NSA; Nuala O'Connor, CEO of The Center for Democracy and Technology; and Trevor Hughes, CEO of the International Association of Privacy Professionals. All of the panelists are part of a recently announced group, The Digital Equilibrium Project, which published its foundational paper on the topic last week: Advancing the Dialogue on Privacy and Security in the Connected World.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch led a discussion on The Evolving Landscape of Cybersecurity: Threats, Opportunities, and Partnerships in a Changing World. When asked about the FBI - Apple controversy Gen. Lynch quipped, "I was fortunate to have received this invitation some months ago; and we thought 'Gee, what could we do to make it interesting?'" Among her later, rather conciliatory comments she said, "I know that neither our technology companies nor their leaders have any sympathy for terrorists or criminals who target Americans."

Secretary of Defense, Dr. Ashton Carter participated in A Conversation on Collaboration Between Silicon Valley and the Department of Defense. While noting that FBI-Apple is not a DOD matter, but rather one for law enforcement; he said "We're behind data security and strong encryption - no question about it. I'm not a believer in backdoors or a single technical approach to what is a complex issue."

Admiral Michael Rogers, Commander of US Cyber Command and Director of NSA also spoke last week and commented, "No solution is without risk; I acknowledge that, but we want to minimize the risk to an acceptable level and be honest and upfront about the risk. I implore that all of us be part of a constructive dialogue. It's time to stop talking past each other and figure out how to work together to meet imperatives. It's not one or the other."

In his keynote Trust in the Cloud in Tumultuous Times, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said, "Despite the best of intentions one thing is clear, the path to hell starts at the backdoor. We need to make sure that encryption technology remains strong."

As mentioned above, the RSA Conference main stage was certainly not the only place you'd find a discussion on privacy. Many of the 551 exhibiting vendors hosted events all around The Moscone Center. "Beat the Breach" was hosted by Invincea and The Christian Science Monitor's Passcode section. The event included a somewhat contentious debate between Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin, RSA President Amit Yoran and Former White House Cyber Advisor Richard Clark.

These are only the talks that I caught last week! I'm sure there was more that I missed. Let me know. Send me your links: @PBeardmore and @RSAsecurity.