Google boss Eric Schmidt has predicted that censorship could come to an end in a decade through the use of encryption to overcome government surveillance.
The head of the world’s biggest web search firm made a pitch for ending censorship in China and other countries with restricted freedom of speech, by connecting everyone to the internet and protecting their communication 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.”
Mr Schmidt has long spoken out against limitations to the freedom of expression and restricted internet access around the world. Earlier this year, he travelled to North Korea, a country disconnected from the rest of the world, to promote the cause.
“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 criticised by the US State Department because it came shortly after North Korea’s long-range missile launch.
And Google is now one of several tech firms embroiled in the controversy over the reach of US government spying. Top secret files 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.
At the time, Mr Schmidt said the NSA’s activity, if true, was outrageous and potentially illegal.
Google, at which Mr 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 consumers’ wireless networks over a two year-period.
Earlier this week, Google agreed to pay $17m (€12.6m) to settle a probe by 37 US states that it bypassed privacy settings on the iPhone’s web browser and tracked web users.
“The solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everyone,” said Mr Schmidt, referring to the process of encoding data to secure it. 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, said Mr Schmidt, calling it a constant “game of cat and mouse” between governments and internet users. “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,” he said.
“In that race, I think the censors will lose, and I think that people would be empowered.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved