This year's RSA Conference began with controversy. Even before Chairman Art Coviello took the stage to deliver his opening keynote, protesters unfurled banners on the Moscone Center reminding the world of RSA's alleged complicity in enabling the NSA to access data that was believed to be secure.
However, after an interview with Coviello, we are no closer to any meaningful information as he does a skilful job of obfuscating and avoiding questions regarding the NSA.
Perhaps one of the most surprising, even shocking, elements of the information leaked by Edward Snowden was the depth and breadth of the NSA's penetration of supposedly secured systems. We asked Coviello if he was surprised by what has been revealed.
"I am in the defence business, not the offence business," said Coviello. "I guess the thing that surprises me most is how, if you look at some of the Snowden revelations, and then you look at some of the conjecture that then gets recorded as fact – what I've noticed is that of you compare some of the Snowden revelations with some of the reports, they’re not always as accurate as they might be."
"My job is to help defend out customers from any potential intruder. That's what I focus on".
It's clear that Coviello is not going to engage on anything specific regarding the NSA's actions or RSA's alleged involvement. Rather, he is focussing on trying to shift the discussion in a different direction.
"What I was trying to do in my keynote was raise the level of dialog. I was very quick to point out that the NSA is not alone is these endeavours. What I think we need, what the whole NSA story is about, is that we lack these norms of behaviour in the digital world," Covielllo said.
Coviello related a scene from the TV series Mad Men where a family, at the end of a picnic in the park, simply dropped all their rubbish off the rug, on the grass, and drove away. During the 1960s, when Mad Men is set, that behaviour was normal. Today, it is unacceptable.
What Coviello has not yet articulated and could not tell us during the interview was how these might be established.
"My point is not that we have to settle all these things. My point is that we need to be having a dialog about them," Coviello said.
Our conversation with Coviello then moved towards the precarious balancing act of privacy and security.
"We have to have the means of having collective security and government needs to play a role to distinguish between the two. So, security and privacy don’t need to be at odds with one another. Security can help us to protect privacy," Coviello said.
However, what's clear in talking with Coviello is that he will avoid discussing the specifics of Snowden's revelations. Instead, he is working hard to move the discussion towards establishing the "digital norms" he espoused during the conference's opening keynote.
Even a direct question as to whether he believed the United States had eroded the trust of the rest of world and if it could be regained following the revelations made by Snowden, was met with a non-answer.
"Well, I made a recommendation about that, about the offensive and defensive missions of the NSA. But, recognise that it against the law for the NSA to spy within the US. And if they’ve done anything illegal… no legal authority seems to be raising that as an issue," he responded.