Chester Soong: I guess I was lucky enough to start off as one of the first ISPs in Hong Kong back in 1995. I was heading up the Internet service providers association locally. And that kind of led us to have a central or organized body to discuss with the government on Internet regulations or telecommunications issues among us. And that kind of opened the door to many of the issues that we are facing today like copyright, privacy, security, and even just Internet accessibility.
Intertitle: Describe one of the breakthrough moments of the Internet in which you have been a key participant?
Soong: To me personally it was the security issues that were brought about by the Internet. Because before we… Regardless of whether it was individual or corporate, all computers were [standalone?] computers, so even when they were networked, they were I guess limited or constrained to within its own physical reach. But with the Internet, it moved beyond the borders of all countries. We started to have I guess cyber life? And so the security of our assets, of our privacy, of our personal information, of everything that we have in the physical world, has become virtual. Or we have a separate or we have a duplicate identity, or even multiple identities, if you will, to protect or to present. And that affected us beyond our imagination at that time. So something that I guess we were trying to work on for nearly two decades, actually, to keep improving that. And it’s like a cat and mouse chase, you know. We have this issue and then we try to close the loop. And then we have another issue, we try to close it or to limit the damage or to enhance the situation by regulations, by technologies, by simply best practices, you know. But trying to strike that balance between the freedom of the Internet or the flexibility, the creativeness of the Internet, and security or protection that we may bring about.
Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weather analogy and explain why.
Soong: I’m not a weather expert, but I would say it is sunny with scattered clouds. [laughs] Because I think overall the… I cannot even use the word “future” anymore. I mean, in discussing the Internet because it’s here. It’s been here with us for quite some time now. But then, I guess…how and what we are using the Internet with is still beyond our imagination today. But then, we probably can learn from experience that what we are doing or what we have with the Internet now or in the future would bring us more than just…I guess benefits. It would bring us harder burdens as well. Like security, privacy, and all this.
And that’s where I meant the scattered clouds would be. Because the future is definitely sunny, you know. The Internet, definitely sunny. It represents life, bread and butter for a lot of people, and it represents fortune for a lot of people. But obviously since we live, or a lot of people live their lives on the Internet, if it is not balanced-ly or rightly governed or used, then it could create disasters for us, or for the general Internet netizens.
Intertitle: What are your greatest hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?
Soong: I would hope for Internet accessibility to I guess very improved. And this I guess does not apply only to the developing countries or the disadvantaged countries. But also— I mean even like I was mentioning earlier to the board of trustees. Even for major, established cities like Hong Kong. We still have a lot of people who because of various disadvantages, they do not get to access the Internet as freely as most of us can. And I think this is simply fair to these people, and I think if there’s any way we can improve that, it would be much better.
And I guess also the— Like I said, it’s also the freedom of using the Internet for doing whatever people want. I think it’s part of the beauty of the Internet to begin with. So this is something [indistinct] can be preserved.
Intertitle: What action should be taken to ensure the best possible future?
Soong: That I guess is not an easy question. Because I would think the important thing is to—one important action—is for various governments…if I’m speaking I guess of the [indistinct] of Hong Kong, then of course the whole government but also because the Internet is global…various governmental or stakeholders to really sit down, get together, and I guess to work out those issues in preserving the Internet as it was supposed to be. And discard the useless political issues between countries and all those things. Because I think a lot of issues about Internet privacy, accessibility, and all those, they’re being talked about but the effectiveness of those initiatives were really hindered by the politics of various countries. And the effect is not really as forthcoming as it was seen or was expected. So I think this is something that leaders, Internet leaders from all over the world should really think about and help to take away those barriers and barricades, to really move it forward.
Intertitle: How does it feel to be awarded as the most active ISOC chapter?
Soong: Well I guess I was flattered, and I was not expecting that. We simply just did what we believed we should be doing. And so we end up doing a lot of activities. And just I guess it’s partly the way…people in Hong Kong expect things to happen. They expect things to happen. They expect a high quality of standards from the work people do. So you can almost immediately see your results, you know, if you do a poor job or you do a good job. You know, you would not have a good turnout the next time your organize anything. And then people really give you feedback almost right away. And this is I guess also the driving force for us in the local chapter, that we try to ensure the quality of all the events or activities are up to the standards of the target audience.
So we didn’t just organize any event, we organized events that really the attendees can get something out of and to really have something to take home. Not just “Okay, come here and look at and see vendors selling things or promoting their services,” you know. We try to avoid that. And we are lucky to have a good group of people who help to build the chapter to what we have today, you know. It cannot happen overnight. It cannot happen in a short period of time. So it’s an effort from a lot of people to build up over time.
Intertitle: What issues are most important to the Hong Kong chapter?
Soong: The Hong Kong public, they are more…they’re very picky on quality. They don’t like anything that is too intangible. They like to really…they want you to know what they are really getting as a result of well, joining any activities, joining an association, doing anything with that time. They don’t want to waste their time and just come and okay we’ll listen to something and then what’s going on, right. They don’t like that.
So every time when we organize anything, we need to get that straight and get that message out. And that’s why we try whenever we organize any activities or we prepare even responses to the government, we need to have direct responses, direct answers to their concerns. We cannot just briefly touch on anything and then move on and claim that we did something. They just would not forgive us for doing that.
And of course we that’s why we are also affected in a way by the general livelihood of the IT industry in general. I say the industry in general because we cannot talk about something that is too high-level such as Internet governance per se, because that would not be…that would be too far away for the general user. It would be would… What they want to talk—okay, would this really affect my job? Why does it really relate to the work we do, to my company, to my products? So that’s why we instead of general governance, for example, we have to focus on IP rights issues, you know. Specific legislations. Things that are really concrete. And that I guess would be one of the biggest differences when compared with the Internet Society in general, you know, which is more global so they have to I guess lift himself and talk about something at a high level. But then for us, we have to dive in and really work on the the real technical stuff.
Intertitle: What is on the horizon for the Hong Kong chapter?
Soong: We have been performing well in terms of membership numbers. We’re performing well in terms of the number of activities that we organized. It’s important and obviously not easy to keep that up. So, this is something that is always in the focus of the board of directors of the Hong Kong chapter. How to maintain that. How to especially maintain the attention, the focus, of our members to our activities. To come to our activities, and then we continue to maintain that list of quality activities to be organized in the future. Getting quality speakers and operating quality events is always difficult, and takes a lot of effort to make it successful.