Paxo trashes privacy, social media and fake news at Infosec 2017

Just don't ask him to explain cryptography...

Broadcaster and journalist Jeremy Paxman at Chatham House CC BY 2.0

"Why is Jeremy Paxman at Infosec?” more than one person wondered, as Newsnight's former rottweiler-in-chief took the stage to deliver the morning's keynote.

It's safe to say Paxo wasn't brought on for his tech knowledge. Asked about Theresa May's stance on end-to-end encryption, he said: "I have no idea what that question means. I wish I understood cryptography."

During his talk Governments, Businesses & Other Scoundrels: Why Trust Anyone?, Paxo stuck to more familiar territory, pouring an equal measure of his trademark scorn on all the leaders of the political parties.

"The truth is there is very little that most parties can actually change," he told the Infosecurity Europe 2017 audience. Rather than lowering the voting age to 16, he believes we should cap the voting age at 70 – as that demographic contributes least to society.

On the role of the surveillance state, he said: "Personally I am prejudiced on this question on security and privacy, what is it you are all doing that you are so concerned about? Do you think anyone is really interested in your sex lives? They are not! I can't understand this.

"I am prepared to trust the security forces. I think they by and large do a brilliant job. And I think they are kept under reasonable supervision. And I think when people who know about these things tell us, suppliers of communication mechanisms ought to be more responsible, I am rather inclined to take their side."

Asked to what extent the US election was compromised by Russian hacking, he said: "How would I know? If I knew, I would have said something! But I don't, I'm afraid. I don't. And thus far the entire intelligence resources of the United States have failed to discover this. So I don't feel that bad."

He was also typically incredulous and dismissive about Facebook and Twitter.

"I was speaking to someone yesterday who said, 'What everyone is ignoring is the influence of social media on this election.' And what we don't know, and will only find out from research after the election, is how many avid consumers of social media actually bother to vote. I think there are quite a lot who don't.

"I personally eschew social media most of the time because so much of it seems to be so very horrid. I don't like the way it is used much of the time. I understand it is a useful tool for some people, but it is not for me."

He added: "Most seats will not change hands, so I suppose the equivalent previously would have been conversations in the pubs and most conversations in most pubs are of a similar hue... In Maidenhead you will find very few Labour supporters.. I don't know why you think Facebook has to be some sort of forum for exchange of views in any kind of constructive sense. I'm not allowed on Facebook by my kids."

On the topic of fake news: "Donald Trump's accusations of false news seem to be very bizarre indeed. As far as I can see most of the fake news is coming out of the Whitehouse."

So what next for Paxo now his long career in broadcasting is at an end? One audience member asked if he'll be ennobled.

"In overalls?! What do you mean in overalls?" Ennobled. "I would very much doubt it!"

And with that the great man exited the stage, probably going off to cash his massive cheque. ®


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