We need trust!

22 Mar 2018 11:00h - 13:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

Mr Patrick D Amon commenced the session by stating the importance of trust for societal value and operation. He mentioned that trust in the normal sense, as understood by the mass of people is a ‘superset of assurance.’ In human societies this assurance is based on many factors, ranging from visual and behavioural signs, to conventions, legal contracts, and social customs. Talking about the current scenario, he said more and more social and economic transactions are executed using the Internet as the medium. Furthermore, the fast-paced growth of the Internet and related technologies has given little room for well conceptualised and timely regulation to address trust issues. To meet this need, there is an increasing necessity to create trust enforcement mechanisms.

Amon further emphasised the importance of the notion of ‘identity‘ as the key mechanism of trust. He stated that the purpose of the workshop was to address fundamental questions from multiple dimensions:

  • What is trust and why is it needed?
  • What is identity on the Internet? Who maintains it? Who owns it? Should it be revocable? How does one reconcile the fundamental vulnerability of code with an essential and growing social function? Should identity be maintained privately or publicly?

He mentioned that the current structure of the Internet struggles with the issue of ‘patchwork security and trust.’ Presenting the background reasons, he mentioned ARPANET, the ancestor of the Internet, which was predicated on a use pattern limited at first to military, and then eventually to academic use. In such a closed ecosystem, authentication and identification were not seen as crucial – the key design requirement being operational resiliency. To address the current challenges, he suggested a solution of a ‘general charter of cyber-rights’, similar to the Geneva Convention, led by governments following a top-down approach.

Advocating a bottom-up approach of addressing trust issues on the Internet and related transactions, Prof. Touradj Ebrahimi, École Polytechnique Fédérale Lausanne, mentioned that from historical experience, large-scale problems experienced by humankind, including hunger, terrorism and security, were handled by a collaborative approach from community members. Accentuating this approach he quoted a French saying which translates as, ‘It takes a lot of different kinds of people to make the world.’ Bringing the focus back to the trust issue on the Internet, he stated that ‘media since its inception has solved some problems and created some others.’ Quoting the example of how number plate licensing is governed by a trusted third party, in this case by government, the Internet also needs a trusted third party which addresses the issues of identity and authentication. Bringing the paradox to the discussion, owing to the mechanisms of anonymity and fake identities on the Internet, he mentioned that ‘thanks to increased digitisation, nobody can trust anybody on the Internet. Anybody can be anybody.’ He further classified trust as originating from the source of individual, software/application/computing devices, and content.

Responding to a query from the floor on how to address the increased power concentration and dynamics due to the increased control of identity by some organisations such as Facebook, Patrick mentioned that it can only be done if we have the option of ‘manual override’, as technology sometimes has its own limitations and boundaries.


By Mohit Saraswat