CITIZENS NEED TO PLACE their faith in something and the time has come to pick a side.
That's the view of Dame Stella Rimington, former MI5 boss, speaking at Microsoft's Future Decoded seminar in London today.
In a speech on the future of leadership, Rimington said: "Do you trust us? Do you trust Snowden? Do you trust Islamic State?" qualifying her statement with an appeal for better openness, education and understanding of why the security services do what they do.
Rimington applauded the decision of new GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan to "stick his head above the parapet", saying that it is no longer enough simply to tell people that "we have your best interests at heart".
She believes that a paranoia has built up around the idea that the security services are "putting security before freedom" and that a more open dialogue is needed if security agencies want to earn the trust of citizens.
It is a view shared by fellow speaker Ronan Dunne, head of Telefónica UK, albeit for different reasons.
Dunne pointed out that the demand for personalised services is increasing but that, in order to personalise them, trust in providers will have to be more forthcoming.
"We have to find a balance" he said. "There needs to be trust to allow access to information, otherwise we're wasting the opportunities offered by constant connectivity."
Dunne described connectivity as "the oxygen of modern life", a sentiment reflected in the O2 brand name.
He pointed out that we now live in a world where "more people have access to a mobile device than to electricity, water and a toothbrush", and that more traffic was carried on the O2 4G network in its first six months than was carried on the whole of its data services since inception.
The event, headlined by the first UK appearance of newish Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, comprised a series of keynotes looking at different aspects of futurology.
Opening speaker, former Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman qualified his contribution, saying that if delegates really wanted a vision of the future they'd be "better off talking to Mystic Meg".
In a typically angry but impassioned warning, Paxman set out his vision of a dystopian nightmare where screen time reduces society's social skills, as we are bombarded with information.
The result, he believes, could leave us better informed but would devalue knowledge itself.
Paxman went on to show an advert for Apple on the subject of individualism before asking the audience: "Have you ever seen such a load of old bollocks in your life?" µ
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