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Caution needed in securing our digital future. By Foreign Ministers Guido Westerwelle and Kevin Rudd, published in 'The Australian'.

Joint contribution by Germany's and Australia's Foreign Ministers Guido Westerwelle and Kevin Rudd on the occasion of the opening of the  „CeBIT Australia“, published in the newspaper The Australian on 2 June 2011.

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GLOBALISATION has changed the world permanently. There can be no turning back on the economic interdependence and expanding access to technology that now marks our planet.

New technologies have linked us in ways we could scarcely have imagined before, and now could not imagine doing without.

We are all stakeholders in the potential for globalisation to bring greater prosperity and security to all. A key driver - perhaps the key driver - for realising this potential is the ongoing revolution in digital communications.

At no time in history have we seen as radical a shift in the speed, reach and immediacy of communication between people.

The printing press, telegraph, and broadcast media were revolutionary in their time. But what we are experiencing today is a communication revolution of

an unprecedented magnitude brought about by the microchip, satellite technology and the internet. "Being connected" has rightly become a byword of our age.

By some estimates, the internet - already accessed by a quarter of the world's population - will be up to 100 times larger in 2020 than it is today. What is more startling, however, is that the degree of interconnectivity will become unimaginably more complex.

The economic opportunities for advanced countries are enormous. But it will also permit developing countries to accelerate their development in the provision of services to their people, as well as in bringing markets to their doorstep, however remote that doorstep may be. Telecommunications is a case in point. Digital and satellite technology has allowed many developing countries to bypass the physical infrastructure required for establishing traditional telephone networks, in favour of developing mobile networks that often reflect world-class standards.

No forum has as central a place in informing this inexorable communications march than CeBIT - simply put, it is the world's biggest digital event.

The 10th anniversary CeBIT Australia 2011, which opened yesterday in Sydney, is the biggest business technology event in the Asia-Pacific region. CeBIT is great for Australia, great for Germany, and great for Sydney.

But there is also a potentially negative side to globalisation and the communications revolution. Advances in communications technology and our increasing dependence not only bring us untold benefits, they also expose us to serious vulnerabilities.

We witnessed with horror how al-Qa'ida was able to commandeer the most primary international connector of cities into a weapon of terror and destruction. And transnational terrorists freely use the internet to spread their message of hate.

Worryingly, we have seen more concerted and co-ordinated computer hacking aimed at disrupting infrastructure and, in some grave instances, military communications systems.

We should make no bones about this: whatever their source, cyber attacks are a grave threat to our national security and measures for countering them must be accorded the highest priority.

We cannot allow the efficiencies and values of our open society to become our Achilles heel.

At the same time, we must preserve the wide accessibility of the internet, which is underpinning our free and open societies.

Recent events in North Africa and the Middle East are testimony to the importance of these media in the struggle for democratic freedoms.

To secure the free flow of ideas and to spur our commerce in new directions, we need co-ordination between states and inside the internet community.

Our goal is to fully realise the unparalleled potential of the internet for delivering benefits across the developed and developing world, as well as securing our prosperity and security.

Kevin Rudd is the Foreign Affairs Minister of Australia. Guido Westerwelle is the Foreign Affairs Minister of Germany.

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