It appears to me that the original vision and promise of the Internet, referred to by many as Digital Utopianism, is at severe risk of deteriorating into a “balkanized” World Wide Web.
National and political Internet barriers, censorship and ubiquitous surveillance seem to be the emerging new reality. Notable digital luminaries the likes of Vin Cerf and Bill Gates have been questioned on this point, and both have expressed no major concern about deterioration of the freedom of the Internet or with the original Utopian vision. The argument is that the World Wide Web cannot be effectively blocked or censored. As a long time Silicon Valley high tech executive, I understand this optimistic view, but the facts on the ground are now providing serious evidence that the Internet is under attack, and may not survive unless there is a significant shift in these new trends.
In the late 1990’s, I participated in the creation of the “point-to-point tunneling protocol” (PPTP) with engineers at Microsoft and Cisco Systems, now an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) industry standard. PPTP is the technical means for creating the “virtual private networks” we use at UBC, by encrypting “open” Internet packets with IPSEC 128 bit code, buried in public packets. It was an ingenious solution enabling private Internet traffic that we assumed would last for a very long time. It was not to be, as we now know. Most disturbing, in the 1990’s the US Congress debated giving the government the key to all encryption, which was resoundingly defeated. Now, the NSA appears to have illegally circumvented this prohibition and cracked encryption anyway. But this discussion is not about the political, legal and moral issues, which are significant. In this post I am more interested in “so now what do we do?” There may be an answer on the horizon, and Canada is already a significant participant in the potential solution.