Jared Cohen

The Future of Internet Freedom

[Commentary] Over the next decade, approximately five billion people will become connected to the Internet. While the technologies of repression are a multibillion-dollar industry, the tools to measure and assess digital repression get only a few million dollars in government and private funding.

Of course, detection is just the first step in a counterattack against censorship. The next step is providing tools to undermine sensors, filters and throttles. For example, software using peer-to-peer algorithms lets users route an Internet connection through another computer without having to go through a VPN, helping to address the trust and scalability issues.

Today it’s possible to use networks like Facebook or Google Hangouts to verify one another’s identities similarly to how we do offline. Obfuscation techniques -- when one thing is made to look like another -- are also a path forward. A digital tunnel from Iran to Norway can be disguised as an ordinary Skype call. Deep packet inspection cannot distinguish such traffic from genuine traffic, and the collateral damage of blocking all traffic is often too high for a government to stomach. Finally, advances in user-experience design practices are a big, if not obvious, boon. The Internet is becoming easier to use, and the same goes for circumvention technologies -- which means that activists will face less of a challenge getting online securely.

[Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, are the authors of “The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses and Our Lives.”]