Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Cyber-security in the preformalist market-state

Chasing some of New Zealand’s smartest cyber-security minds around Israel last week, it was clear that governance – the provision of basic services, such as security, sewers, water, electricity, roads, internet and so on – is a job best performed by a single institution.

Even regulatory services making sure restaurants don’t put rat poison in my food work best when they’re insourced rather than outsourced. But who says this single institution needs to be a national government? Because in the looming market-state, it may not be.

What strikes me as a barbaric survival from an age of mystical nonsense is the giant nation-state. It seems outdated in a world of near-complete information flow and globalisation. If there is any justice in history, future generations will regard the difference between government and the state as the difference between liver and liver cancer. The tendency of both cancer and the state is to grow. And cancer can’t be cured by reforming it.

As this preformalist market-state emerges, it must be remembered to enforce a strict separation between law enforcement and education. Both are absolutely necessary but, if they are connected, a theocratic state emerges. This is exactly what we live in now, although it worships humanity rather than anthropomorphised supernatural entities.

According to author Philip Bobbitt, the legitimacy of the nation-state depends on how well it can deliver on the terms of the constitutional order under which it operates. The authority of the nation-state is based on the state offering to improve the material well-being of its people in exchange for power. On the other hand, the market-state maximises material well-being in exchange for power.

The slow transition is most clear in cyber-security. And in its desperation to fix the cyber threat, national governments turned to something civil servants don’t fully understand – business. Corporations now seem to be performing an ever-growing number of basic social functions, including security. This isn't unique in history. Recall that the East India Company owned a military and was used as a tool of London.

What’s happening in cyberspace is significant because the primary job of any government is the provision of security for its citizens. So, if national governments are abdicating this fundamental role over to business, then are they really worthy of being called ‘government’ anymore? The important question is: How did we get from there to here?

The problem isn't necessarily that businesses are shouldering the role of security. After all, order is order no matter which government supplies it. The problem is those who are criminally minded will see an opportunity to adopt the symbols of business as cover for action. Power is never static but the newly powerful must be formalised. Any ambiguity and irresponsibility in this process will only lead to chaos.

Don’t misunderstand me: There are many good cyber-security companies. But it doesn’t mean each is trustworthy. Think about the access these companies are being given, legitimately, to conduct “penetration tests” and peer into clients' operations, map those networks and monitor staff movement – at work and at home. All the while knowing exactly what vulnerabilities exist and providing “solutions” for the client.

National governments know they can't deal with the cyber threat. They are too unwieldy, don’t own the networks and will be permanently late to need. But why should these companies be trusted to map our networks? Most people wouldn’t let governments into their networks without a warrant, so why are companies allowed? They even get paid for it.

Because power in the new market-state is not yet formalised for cyber-security but instead exists in a strange state of “almost,” where is the incentive for companies to solve the problem? Why would they fix the digital gaps when they alone have the power - but not the responsibility - to locate new threats at will, or to hide those threats?

The reason to find and formalise the actual power structure in a preformalist society such as this is that in informal power structures people put a lot of effort into struggling for power. The struggle for power leads only to chaos, not order. And no one ever said anything good about chaos.

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