One of my mentors, those who truly changed my way of thinking, died last week. John McWilliam , former Chairman of PITCOM understood Internet security from his days as a top-flight telecoms engineer. He also had a unique grasp of Anglo-US politics as one of those fired on at Kent State University – where he was one of the group of British post-graduate engineers whose promised (but so long delayed that they thought it had been killed off) trip to see the comms networks of NASA came through, “quite by chance”, just before the plane carrying the advance guard of the UK press arrived to interview them.
John was a great enthusiast for the potential of the Internet but also a massive sceptic as to whether it could ever be made fit for confidential traffic. He told me never to send anything over an on-line service, whatever the claimed security, that I would not be willing to shout across a crowded room of strangers – akin to the doctrine of “treat e-mails as postcards”.
His analyses of political processes were equally profound and could be equally succinct – including his comparisons of the UK and US. “Westminster generates legislation. Washington kill it off legislation. Both operate regardless of quality.”
I miss him.