Trusting the Digital Society




Leon Conference 2010



The transformation of society under the influence of digitization, and in particular the emergence of Internet and Web has led to significant discussions about: trust, security and privacy. These interrelated issues are essential social drivers as they form and shape communities, their social cohesion and prosperity.

It is interesting to note however that these concepts do not scale. The larger the community the more social mechanisms (political, legal and law enforcement institutions, trusted organizations, ethical and cultural norms) we must develop to enable trusting our other community members, to feel secure and at the same time maintain our privacy.

In our globalized and digitized world we see at least two parallel processes undermining trust, security and privacy: (1) the globalization due to availability of fast and location-independent person to person communication and unlimited information for almost everybody worldwide, and (2) a diminishing of the effectiveness of our natural senses to establish trust (seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling the other) as our electronic communication does not allow full and trustworthy use of those senses. 

Therefore, in the digital space we need urgently more tools, mechanisms, trust platforms (institutions), regulation and law, and likely more, to help us to trust, to feel secure and to have privacy, so that we can develop ourselves and the communities we live in.

The financial crisis has shown that trust is extremely difficult to maintain in complex systems. We must constantly keep trust, security and privacy in mind when we design new systems, processes, laws and technical devices for our already heavily complex world. Trust, security and privacy will also themselves be part of the societal evolution caused by technology development.  But surely they will remain as important for our social cohesion and stability as they have been for the many centuries before.