There’s a David-and-Goliath battle raging in cyberspace and, on Bruce Schneier’s scorecard, Goliath is kicking butt.
Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, delivered a sobering account of the fight Friday evening at TEDx Cambridge. For all its potential to distribute knowledge and power to the masses, the Internet is actually giving more control to corporations and governments, he argued.
“Which type of power dominates the coming decades? Right now it looks like traditional power,” Schneier said. “It’s much easier for the NSA to spy on everyone than it is for anyone to maintain privacy. China has an easier time blocking content than its citizens have getting around those blocks.”
There are exceptions, he noted, but they are not all good.
“Cyber criminals can rob more people more quickly than real-world criminals,” Schneier said. “Digital pirates can make more copies of more movies more quickly than their analog ancestors. And we’ll see it in the future. 3D printers mean control debates are soon going to involve guns and not movies.”
And even when David appears to gain the upper hand, he added, the advantage is often temporary — like in the civil war in Syria, where “dissidents used Facebook to organize, [but] the Syrian government used Facebook to identify and arrest dissidents.”
But there’s still time for a comeback, Schneier said, if citizens stand up for transparency and oversight in data collection and use.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “It’s courts that act as third-party advocates. It’s legislatures that understand technologies, it’s a vibrant press, and it’s watchdog groups that analyze and report on what power is doing. Those two things—transparency and accountability—give us the confidence to trust institutional power and ensure that it’ll act in our interests. “Without it, I think democracy just fails.”