the Future of New Zealand's Technology

by Don Christie

Eight major tech companies, the European Commission, and seventeen countries have stepped-up to support a widespread agreement for the elimination of terrorist and violent extremist content online. What we do next is vital. Now prepared with a framework and deliverables focused on human rights for everyone, it’s time for the tech sector to deliver.

Governments often say you cannot fully enforce the online world with rules. However, it is a mistake to treat online businesses and multinationals differently from old-style global conglomerates. They are just as monopolistic; driven by greed and profit. They have lost their sense and sight of what matters most, humanity.

Governments have regulations and legislation that manage their interactions with global corporates, why can't we enforce the same in the tech sector? Where a breach of regulations and standards will be met with consequences. The New Zealand government already pay Google and Facebook for advertisements, we can develop these relationships further and build agreements with tighter regulations. We have seen this happen in Europe, which enforced their own privacy regulations-the GDPR-this changed and shaped digital behaviours. We need our government to follow suit.

Declaring that we do not know how to enforce digital regulations suggests a profound lack of technological understanding. As the leader of a technology company which builds cloud infrastructure, it frustrates me when people remark ”oh it’s in the cloud, I don't know where it is.” As technologist I can say, ”I know where it is, it's sitting on this server, which is in Hamilton”. The same principal applies for online businesses and multinationals locating the origin of abuse, discrimination and hate-speech. We have the ability to take responsibility.

We are at a crisis point; recent research shows we are facing digital threats to democracy with ‘deepfake’ news; the growing capability to falsify information through manipulated video and speech. These videos appear authentic through mimicking the targeted speakers’ speech patterns, phrases and style. This technology in a world without regulations and repercussions has the power to be catastrophic.

New Zealand must act with urgency to build a digital resistance to these technological threats before they further infiltrate and undermine our society. It is in our power to develop and create spaces that are not reliant, nor influenced by, unchecked monopolistic platforms.

New Zealand is highly connected with many countries, through the membership of OECD, the FVEYs, and our strong relationships with Australia, Canada and the UK. We can harness this connectedness to leverage action locally and internationally, and we will lead the way with our own citizens.

Next we need to use educational campaigns to increase awareness of privacy, security and potential threats.

And, when we build technologies, privacy and security must be paramount. Future technology and features should be secure by default.

This is a lot to balance, too much for Jacinda Ardern or the tech sector alone, so we look to the government.

It is crucial for the government to appoint a political person with a deep understanding of the tech sector to help us through this transition. We have the framework; we now need political leadership to direct and keep up the momentum. New Zealand can be the leader for change.

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Catalyst is a New Zealand-owned and operated company where values, community, and integrity are paramount. Since 1997, Catalyst has been dedicated to using the world’s best open source software and tools to deliver robust IT solutions for our clients. We have grown through long-term commitments to our clients, a culture of collaboration and organisations consistently experiencing the superior economic and social value that open source delivers.