Graham Brown-Martin, Digital Safety Conference

Graham, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I’ve been described as a disruptive maverick who tends to apply the principles of activism to much of what I do.

I’m the founder and managing director of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF) whose mission is to provide continuous dialogue concerning new learning and teaching practice leading to improvements of a transformational nature.

Prior to this I had enjoyed a career spanning the education and entertainment software industries, having built a number of creatively and technologically innovative enterprises that were sold to larger corporations including Philips Electronics and Virgin Interactive. Before starting my own companies I worked with the Open University and UK computer maker RM. I’ve also worked in several developing nations on knowledge/skills transfer projects.Aside from my work and entrepreneurship in technology, I’ve has also directed music videos for The Fall, Malcolm McLaren, Salt Tank and Future Sound of London amongst others and with artist Buggy G Riphead, I designed the ship’s computer for the feature film, “Lost in Space”.

I have 4 children and live in a leafy enclave between Peckham and Deptford in South-East London, UK.

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How did the idea for the Digital Safety conference come about?

For the past 5 years my family and I have been the victims of cybercrime in the form of continued cyberstalking by an individual from overseas and currently beyond the direct reach of UK authorities. The case has been the subject of mainstream media attention including this documentary.

As a consequence of dealing with the challenges and frustrations of working with the British Police, Home Office and other government departments I have gained a detailed knowledge of the subject matter as well as many of the loopholes in the law that have allowed our stalker to continue his campaign of abuse against my family, one of whom was just 3 years old when this started and has also been the subject of his attacks.

My thinking was that I should use this knowledge to establish an international forum where cybercrime can be discussed amongst a cross-sector community of educators, technologists, legal professionals, government and law enforcement agencies to effectively use the Internet and other digital technologies to “crowd source” an international solution to some of the problems which, quite clearly, domestic laws and enforcement are failing to address.

I wanted to take this negative and create a positive that would support the hundreds of thousands of other people and families that are and will become the victims of cybercrime.

What is the programme for this year's conference? Who are the speakers?

Our programme is unique in that we’re looking at the broad range of digital technologies from the Internet to location based services to mobile data from the perspective of users of all ages and abilities rather than just a conference that is focused on, say, Child Safety which is an area that is over populated with well intentioned organisations.

The idea is to quite simply “reboot the dialogue” and drag it out of what has become a sandwich and tea talking shop, i.e. lots of government departments talking a good show but delivering very little, charities being funded by service providers who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and working parties consisting of policy wonks whose job is to ensure that nothing changes.

Every major corporation working in social media for example will have a “policy officer” – have you ever wondered what they do? The “policy” is to interface with government to ensure their employers can continue to make money.

Consequently our speakers are not the usual suspects or if they have been involved in other groups they have lost patience with the almost geological speed that certain initiatives are taking. Speakers include:

Tom Watson MP, former UK Cabinet Minister for Digital Engagement
Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus
Dr Richard Clayton, Security Research, Cambridge University
Tanya Byron, Author of the Byron Review
Hamish Brown MBE, the UK’s leading expert on stalking
Jayne Hitchcock, President of Working to Halt Online Abuse, USA
Spyros Pappas, Attorney at Law, Brussels & Athens Bar

Who is the conference aimed at and what do you hope to achieve?

A feature of this conference and indeed all of our LWF events/communities is that we seek to bring together a diverse group of thought leaders from different disciplines into the discussion.

The conference is aimed primarily at those working in education, law enforcement, computer forensics, psychology, legal profession, government, victim support and policy makers.

The outcomes will be that we will have started a new dialogue that is directed towards action that isn’t hamstrung by policy speak and is international in nature. The event will see the inauguration of an international online community and a continually building suite of resources that are free to access including the films and recordings from this first event.

We will ask some of the basic questions that have been hitherto skirted around by many of the organisations addressing this area.

What trends do you see as far as online safety is concerned?

There’s been a lot of emphasis in the media recently about the “value of cybercrime”. Recently it was quoted that the value of cybercrime was “US$100 Bn per year which is more than the illegal drugs trade” and that this money was likely to be used to “finance terrorism”. I must confess to being somewhat cynical about this editorial tack. I very much doubt this money is funding terrorism, more likely some very high-end luxury goods and a yacht moored off Monaco!

A number of laws are being rushed through either on the back of counter-terrorism legislation or to protect the interests of corporations’ digital content rights. The “Digital Britain” initiative is a good example of a public-private proposal where the public gets to pay for an awful lot of infrastructure on the pretext of closing the digital divide when in reality it is laying the pipelines for e-government and more importantly the sales of digital content protected by these new laws.

There is very little acknowledgement of the need for digital literacy or safety for even the existing 34 million UK citizens on the net let alone the extra 15 million that are hoped for. One could be forgiven for thinking, perhaps dramatically, “lambs to the slaughter”.

The trend of valuing cybercrime in hard cash detracts from the very real psychological and emotional harm that cybercrime has on the individual.

Whether it is bullying, stalking, identity theft or fraud these are violations on the individuals and the issue for law enforcement is that unlike a mugging, a break-in or a rape the violation can not be seen and in the majority of cases our modern Police officers are not equipped to respond nor are they supported by the Crown Prosecution Service and quite possibly the law. Perhaps if the emotional effects in terms of medication, absence from work, etc were calculated in real cash terms then they would be on a par with those suggested by fraud and attacks on business. But the situation is that in cyberspace as in the physical world the law tends to protect business over the individual.

What would you most like to see changed or improved in the way online stalking or harassment is handled?

First, at its most basic level, stalking and harassment needs to be recognised as a crime and treated seriously.

Second, online stalking from a legal perspective is no different from offline stalking. Generally however when you mention to law enforcement or a legal professional such as the CPS that a computer or mobile phone is involved they go weak at the knees. It is just not acceptable in 2009 that many Police officers or the CPS do not have even a basic understanding of technology. In the UK I can’t even send copies of the abuse my family has received and neither can my case officer see it because their own network blocks it!

Third, we need our governments to talk to each other and do what they’ve already done to protect big business and defend against terrorism. They need to institute an interoperable legal framework so that abuse that occurs over national borders can be successfully prosecuted either locally or by extradition. If somebody like Gary McKinnon can be extradited for causing no harm to a US defence computer then there should be no reason why a person can’t be extradited for relentlessly stalking or harassing people across borders.

What do you make of plans to log all phone and internet traffic in the interests of national security?

People are fooling themselves if they don’t think this is already happening. The difference is that it is just creeping up on people while they sleep walk into it. These same civil libertarians are falling over themselves to give all of their data to corporations like Google, Facebook, MySpace, etc. People use these services for their email, voice communications, photographs, calendar, socialising, music and film playlists, etc etc and then these same corporations come around and take a photo of your car and your cat and your front door. Your mobile phone is being tracked by marketing companies who sell this “herd” data so that advertisers can place their bill boards in just the right places and then in our wonderful Web 2.0 omniverse all the data about you including the stuff you forget to opt-in or out of can be mashed up to create the complete picture of you.

This might sound like the paranoid rantings of the delusional but my opinion is that if we’re going to have a debate about whether our government has the right to log all of our communications then this debate needs to be extended to the entire explosion of digital communications before we go past the point of no return.

What message would you most like to give to computer forensics practitioners?

You’re the future and you’re going to be very busy.

This is the first Digital Safety conference – what are the plans for the future?

The site will migrate into an international online activist community and resource repository for anybody interested or concerned about digital safety issues either personally, nationally or globally.

I would then hope to expand the conference and run them a couple of times a year in different parts of the world to expand the community and engage with new themes.

What do you do to relax and unwind?

I spent a good part of my career in the music industry so I still have a love of listening to music and keeping up to date with what’s happening. There’s some great new music coming out of the UK at the moment from urban dubstep and grime to indie bands such as The Ting Tings and Hot Chip. I’m looking forward to the summer festival season and heading out to Glastonbury, Bestival, the Big Chill, etc.

I love movies although typically these are geeky so I got a big thrill out of the new Star Trek film and will be taking the kids to see the new Transformers movie at the IMAX. I usually get to see more “cerebral” fare when they’re released on Blu-Ray as I’m a home cinema nut.

I always seem to have a few books on the go at any given moment – my tribute to old tech – and I’m a bit of a compulsive Tweeter.

Then there’s playing with my kids and dog which tends to include long walks in the local woods and parks.

Graham can be reached through the contact form here.

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