Francis Maude kicked off his tenure as the UK's lead on Cyberspace Security by recalling the early days of motoring in the UK.
On the day that Google unveiled another attempt by Chinese hackers to break into the email accounts of prominent individuals in the US, the Cabinet Secretary suggested that the UK could learn a lot by considering the turmoil that greeted the introduction of the horseless carriage to the roads of Great Britain.
Maude inherited responsibility for cybersecurity when Baroness Neville-Jones gave up the role last month.
"A century ago, the invention of the motorcar spawned an age of mass travel – of freedom to explore, investigate, widen horizons and become intimate not just with one's immediate locality, but with a whole world beyond. It transformed everything about our society, overwhelmingly for the better," Maude recalled.
"It also, of course, brought road accidents, and to reduce them a whole panoply of new rules and regulations. The superhighways of the internet are similarly transformative for the good, but similarly need their speed cameras and crash barriers – not so as to stop people travelling, but to allow them to do so safely."
Flagging up the need for regulations might seem a departure for Maude, whose main job as Cabinet Secretary is streamlining government and trashing red tape.
However, rather than calling for every surfer in the UK to be preceded by a man bearing a red flag, he went onto to say, "Identity assurance is one such measure that we shall be championing as we head towards an assumption that Government services should be digital by default, and in this respect I am very much indebted to the work of Martha Lane-Fox, founder of one of Britain's pioneering internet businesses, the discount bookings company Lastminute.com."
He cited the DVLA as an example of what the government would like to do, while adding "we must go wider and deeper, while at the same time assuring the public that we are not creating a Big Brother state."
On a broader scale, he said "when it comes to delivering the Government's National Cyber Security Programme, the emphasis is on the word 'National'; it is about underpinning confidence that the UK is a safe place to do business in cyberspace and that in turn means engaging with the public, with industry and with other countries to ensure that we all benefit from a safe, secure and resilient cyberspace."
He said that planning of the London International Cyber Conference was underway, with the aim of turning William Hague's recently declared seven principles of behaviour in cyberspace into "a set of agreed workable norms".
He then swerved back into his creaking motor simile, saying: "As for the early motorists, there's still a long, long way to go, and all we can say for sure about the journey is that we will get to places that today we can't even imagine. For that to happen, though, the highway needs rules and policing, not so as to restrict its use, but so as to keep it safe, reliable and open for all." ®