Google’s Schmidt: censorship will “end in a decade”
Google chairman Eric Schmidt has optimistically predicted the end of global censorship within the next decade.
Speaking at Johns Hopkins University, Schmidt also made a pitch for universal encryption to protect users from spying.
“First they try to block you; second, they try to infiltrate you; and third, you win. I really think that’s how it works. Because the power is shifted,” he said. “I believe there’s a real chance that we can eliminate censorship and the possibility of censorship in a decade.”
Sceptics might point to China’s most recent communiqué on web censorship following last week’s meeting between the government’s top leaders.
I believe there’s a real chance that we can eliminate censorship and the possibility of censorship in a decade
According to the China Media Project, party leaders are in fact worried that the country’s censors can’t keep up with fast-paced social media services such as WeChat and Twitter, and intend to crack down on such services.
Schmidt has often criticised countries with limited freedom of expression and locked-down internet access. Earlier this year, he described China as a “menace” to security.
He also paid a visit to North Korea, a country disconnected from the rest of the world, to promote the cause – though he admitted the trip didn’t go well.
“It’s clear that we failed. But we’ll try again. We have not been invited back,” he said of the personal trip, the timing of which was later criticised by the US State Department as being unhelpful because it came shortly after North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket.
The goal for North Korea, Schmidt said, was not democracy for now but to merely get the people to connect with the rest of the world. “My view is that if we can get some connectivity, then they’ll begin to open the country, they’ll begin to understand other systems.”
Trouble at home
On the home front, too, Google is now one of several tech companies embroiled in the controversy over the reach of US government spying. Top secret documents disclosed by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden have suggested the National Security Agency has tapped Google’s and others’ communications links to aid in its gathering of intelligence.
Schmidt at the time said that the NSA’s activity, if true, was outrageous and potentially illegal.
Google, at which Schmidt served as CEO until 2011, has faced its own criticism for intercepting data over the years. The company acknowledged in 2010 that a fleet of cars it operates to map the world’s streets had mistakenly collected passwords and other personal data from home Wi-Fi networks over a two year-period.
Earlier this week, Google agreed to pay $17 million to settle a probe by 37 US states that it bypassed privacy settings on the iPhone’s Safari browser to track web users.
“The solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everyone,” Schmidt said.
He acknowledged that encryption can be broken and said Snowden’s revelations showed the NSA has indeed done it, but added: “With sufficiently long keys and changing the keys all the time, it turns out it’s very, very difficult for the interloper of any kind to go in and do that.”
Google has recently increased the length and complexity of its encryption keys, Schmidt said, calling it a constant “game of cat and mouse” between governments and web firms.
“It’s pretty clear to me that government surveillance and the way in which governments are doing this will be here to stay in some form, because it’s how the citizens will express themselves, and the governments will want to know what they’re doing,” Schmidt said.
“In that race, I think the censors will lose, and I think that people would be empowered.”