Dream of Internet freedom dying, Black Hat keynoter says

Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society tells crowd to push for equality, decentralization, end-to-end encryption to revive promise of global network

Today the dream of Internet freedom is dying as the global network becomes more centralized, regulated and globalized, according to Jennifer Granick, who delivered the opening keynote Wednesday at the annual Black Hat USA Conference in Las Vegas.

Granick, director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, said we will have an Internet in 20 years that does not reflect the original dream of freedoms and global conversation.

"It will be a slick, stiff, controlled closed thing," she told a packed Mandalay Bay Ballroom.

Granick said the hacker ethic that information should be accessible is dying along with decentralization, an original design element of the Internet, and the idea of a network that would allow free speech while providing security and privacy.

Granick, who also is a lawyer that has argued Internet-related cases including defending Internet pioneer Aaron Swartz, is no doomsday proponent. She has been infatuated with the Internet's possibilities since first signing on nearly 25 years ago. She has a long-held belief in an open Internet and a world where information is freely available and helps break the shackles of age, race, gender and class.

She said today's Internet is less open and more centralized, saying that some people believe that mega-sites like Facebook are the Internet; that it is more regulated; and there is less U.S. dominance over the network as other world governments, without laws regarding rights or due process, try to harness its power.

Rather than providing freedoms, the future Internet may well reinforce existing power structures, which will be particularly true around security, she said.

"Like the push for crypto backdoors," Granick said. "This will be done locally, not globally and powerful groups will decide who gets security and who doesn't" and that will create security haves and have-nots.

"The Internet will become more like TV than a global conversation," she said. "Twenty years from now you won't necessarily know the decisions that affect your rights." She lamented the surveillance age and censorship.

"It doesn't have to be this way, but we have to start today to change," she said.

She pointed to equality that focuses on inclusion across all communities. She said Internet users need to be allowed to tinker so they can understand how technology works. She said this will be critical with the coming Internet of Things.

"If we can't study that, we will be surrounded by these black boxes that we can't tinker with," she said. She cited the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a major hurdle.

Granick said people need to think globally, push for decentralization and end-to-end encryption, which she said will give power back to the people.

She said the government needs to keep its hands off private technology and that people need to fear the right things, noting that more people fear sharks than cows even though cows statistically kill more than five time the number of people than do sharks.

Granick said if her Internet forecast does come true around 2035, that it won't be time to roll over and accept it as fate. "We will need to get ready to smash it apart and make something better."

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