LONDON — If Western countries do not act, they face a “moment of reckoning” where future digital technologies that underpin their economies and security are no longer under their control, the director of GCHQ, the U.K.’s communications intelligence agency, will warn Friday.
In a speech, Jeremy Fleming will describe the U.K. as a “global cyber power” and “a big animal in the digital world.” But he will also caution that the U.K. must adapt in order to maintain its historic digital strength, in the face of foreign adversaries that could threaten the design and freedom of the internet, and the security of emerging technologies such as smart cities.
“Cybersecurity is an increasingly strategic issue that needs a whole-nation approach,” Fleming will say in this year’s Imperial College Vincent Briscoe Annual Security Lecture according to parts of the speech released to the media in advance. “The rules are changing in ways not always controlled by government. And without action it is increasingly clear that the key technologies on which we will rely for our future prosperity and security won’t be shaped and controlled by the West. We are now facing a moment of reckoning.”
His speech comes amid wider political tensions between Western countries, Russia and China, and as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushes for a D-10 group of like-minded democracies that could team up on the technology to compete with China on a stronger footing.
Such a group would be formed by the G7 members plus South Korea, India and Australia, and would seek to address 5G mobile communication networks and vulnerable supply chains, among other issues. The coronavirus pandemic and Europe’s realization of its high dependence on Chinese medical supplies has given fresh impetus to the idea, originally spurred by security concerns in the West about Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant and a global leader of 5G technology.
Elsewhere in his speech, Fleming will stress the need for the U.K. to develop quantum technologies and better cyber capabilities; engage with allies to shape the international rules of the cyber space; and constantly reinvent its influence and advantage.
“The U.K. has always enjoyed a strong track record in technology innovation. As a country, we need to be using all the levers and tools at our disposal to shape and grow key technologies and markets,” he will say. “We must do that in a way that helps protect the nation and open society. And that means becoming better at using the power of the state to both foster and protect brilliant developments in technology.”