How the U.S. Government Can Make the Internet Safer

Bruce Schneier

Schneier is a security expert and the author of Data and Goliath: The Hidden 
Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World

On today’s Internet, too much power is concentrated in too few hands. In the 
early days of the Internet, individuals were empowered. Now governments and 
corporations hold the balance of power. If we are to leave a better Internet 
for the next generations, governments need to rebalance Internet power more 
towards the individual. This means several things.

First, less surveillance. Surveillance has become the business model of the 
Internet, and an aspect that is appealing to governments worldwide. While 
computers make it easier to collect data, and networks to aggregate it, 
governments should do more to ensure that any surveillance is exceptional, 
transparent, regulated and targeted. It’s a tall order; governments such as 
that of the U.S. need to overcome their own mass-surveillance desires, and at 
the same time implement regulations to fetter the ability of Internet companies 
to do the same.

Second, less censorship. The early days of the Internet were free of 
censorship, but no more. Many countries censor their Internet for a variety of 
political and moral reasons, and many large social-networking platforms do the 
same thing for business reasons. Turkey censors anti-government political 
speech; many countries censor pornography. Facebook has censored both nudity 
and videos of police brutality. Governments need to commit to the free-flow of 
information, and to make it harder for others to censor.

Third, less propaganda. One of the side-effects of free speech is erroneous 
speech. This naturally corrects itself when everybody can speak, but an 
Internet with centralized power is one that invites propaganda. For example, 
both China and Russia actively use propagandists to influence public opinion on 
social media The more governments can do to counter propaganda in all forms, 
the better we all are.

And fourth, less use control. Governments need to ensure that our Internet 
systems are open and not closed, that neither totalitarian governments nor 
large corporations can limit what we do on them. This includes limits on what 
apps you can run on your smartphone, or what you can do with the digital files 
you purchase or are collected by the digital devices you own. Controls inhibit 
innovation: technical, business, and social.

Solutions require both corporate regulation and international cooperation. They 
require Internet governance to remain in the hands of the global community of 
engineers, companies, civil society groups, and Internet users. They require 
governments to be agile in the face of an ever-evolving Internet. And they’ll 
result in more power and control to the individual and less to powerful 
institutions. That’s how we built an Internet that enshrined the best of our 
societies, and that’s how we’ll keep it that way for future generations.

Schneier is a security expert and the author of Data and Goliath: The Hidden 
Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World

It's better to burn out than fade away.

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