State surveillance and government access restrictions pose the greatest dangers to the future of the internet
That’s the opinion of over 1,400 experts, from academics to engineers, consulted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The Net Threats report highlights widespread fears that nation states will increasingly block, filter and segment the internet to try and maintain security and political control. Commercial pressures, too, will affect everything from internet architecture to the flow of information, having a devastating effect on trust.
The Arab Spring demonstrated the power of the internet to help protesters organize – and governments have recognized this too. From the Great Firewall of China to NSA surveillance, the trend towards internet control has accelerated.
“Governments worldwide are looking for more power over the Net, especially within their own countries,” says Dave Burstein, editor of Fast Net News. “Britain, for example, has just determined that ISPs block sites the government considers ‘terrorist’ or otherwise dangerous. This will grow. There will usually be ways to circumvent the obstruction but most people won’t bother.”
The word “Balkanization” crops up repeatedly in the responses, and there’s concern over the different approaches taken by different nations – differences that have recently come to the fore, for example, with the EU’s introduction of a right to be forgotten.
“Already access and sharing are hindered by parochial national laws. The European Union’s privacy initiative can be a serious bottleneck, and the Safe Harbor regime is in jeopardy,” says a professor at Georgetown University and former US Federal Trade Commission official. “Nationalism, and sovereign interests — for good reasons (privacy protection) or bad (economic protectionism) — are clear and present threats.”
But big business is seen as a significant threat too – particularly by a number of early internet pioneers. The prospect of the loss of network neutrality, along with the spreading tentacles of copyright protection and patent law, leads many to fear a future where the internet is controlled by commercial interests alone.
“American information industries along with their lackeys in the copyright office and Congress will effectively throttle the potential of the internet. Instead of thinking of new ways of encouraging innovation, they will lock into stone the pre-existing business models,” writes one US-based policy advisor.
“Content distribution should be almost costless, but content owners will have successfully implemented legal and technical schemes that make access to and sharing of information impossible without paying them first.”
The experts do, thank goodness, feel some hope for the future: most believe that access to the internet worldwide will continue to spread. There’s hope that in developed nations, the commercial middle-men will wither away and consumers will gain greater access to content.
“The best realization of the fullest potential of the internet isn’t a technology question but a human question,” says Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
“When given the opportunity, will we realize the benefits of sharing more information, gathering more knowledge, making more connections among ourselves? So far, we have.”
Source | Forbes