The future of an open Internet faces threats from government
crackdowns, and "balkanization" resulting from growing concerns over
broad electronic surveillance, a survey of experts showed Thursday.
Pew Research Center said a majority of experts and others in the opt-in
survey were generally optimistic about Internet freedom but that a
significant number expressed concerns.
"The experts in this survey
noted a broad global trend toward regulation of the Internet by regimes
that have faced protests and stepped up surveillance of Internet
users," Pew said in its report.
"They pointed out that nations
such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey have blocked Internet access to
control information flows when they perceived content as a threat to the
current regime. China is known for its 'Great Firewall,' seen as
Internet censorship by most outsiders, including those in this
Pew said 35 percent in the survey agreed with the
statement that by 2025 "there be significant changes for the worse and
hindrances to the ways in which people get and share content online."
remaining 65 percent of those in the survey were optimistic that the
Internet would avoid these issues, but some of these added comments
suggesting they were not entirely confident.
The report is not
based on a random poll, but instead an opt-in survey of people deemed
experts or affiliated with certain organizations, taken between November
2013 and January 2014.
"While the majority of the survey
respondents remain optimistic about the Internet's long-term future,
they also have concerns about the turf wars emerging as these
technologies mature," said Janna Anderson of Elon University and a
co-author of the report.
"Many experts worry that, if ignored, these problems could change the fundamental nature of this crucial information system."
surveyed were affiliated with a variety of Internet-related
organizations such Yahoo, Intel, IBM, the Oxford Internet Institute, and
universities including Princeton, Yale, Brown, Georgetown,
Carnegie-Mellon and others.
Some chose to remain anonymous while others offered comments on the record.
the issues driving changes in the Internet, the respondents said, were
Edward Snowden's revelations about National Security Agency (NSA)
surveillance, and widespread data breaches like the one affecting
millions of customers of retailer Target.
"The pressures to
balkanize the global Internet will continue and create new
uncertainties. Governments will become more skilled at blocking access
to unwelcome sites," said Paul Saffo, managing director at Discern
Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford University.
Boyd, a research scientist for Microsoft, noted that "because of
governance issues (and the international implications of the NSA
reveals), data sharing will get geographically fragmented in challenging
ways. The next few years are going to be about control."
(Also Read: NSA Internet Surveillance is Legal: US Privacy Oversight Board)
York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that "censorship still
poses a major threat to communications worldwide. More than one-third of
those who access the Internet are accessing a censored version of it
and that number continues to grow."
But Vint Cerf, Google vice president and co-inventor of the Internet protocol, was more optimistic.
Internet will become far more accessible than it is today --
governments and corporations are finally figuring out how important
adaptability is," he wrote.
"AI (artificial intelligence) and natural language processing may well make the Internet far more useful than it is today."