by Victoria Woollaston
Last week’s emergency surveillance legislation may have sounded like something out of George Orwell’s novel 1984, but was cited as yet another real-life example of states trying to control their citizens.
It’s been 65 years since Orwell described a fictional dystopian world of surveillance and manipulation by so-called Big Brother, and experts claim over the next decade this fiction is about to become fact.
The Net Threats report from Pew Research Centre details how, by 2025, the web will be governed by a system heavily influenced by governments, large corporations, and security services all trying to control our behaviours.
This could mean what we buy, read, watch and share will be restricted, and our surfing history stored for future use.
More than 1,400 experts, including analysts, editors and professors, were canvassed for their opinion.
According to their responses, they believe actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering and segmentation of the internet.
Trust will be weakened, as a result of revelations about government and corporate surveillance – and this will likely increase surveillance in the future.
And commercial pressures will affect the flow of information, and make the web less open – a threat campaigners for net neutrality already fear following debates over internet fast lanes.
Paul Saffo, managing director at Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford University, said that by 2025 ‘the pressures to balkanise the global internet will continue and create new uncertainties.
‘Governments will become more skilled at blocking access to unwelcome sites.’
Dave Burstein, editor of Fast Net News, added: ‘Governments worldwide are looking for more power over the net, especially within their own countries.
‘Britain, for example, has just determined that ISPs block sites the government considers ‘terrorist’ or otherwise dangerous.
‘This will grow. There will usually be ways to circumvent the obstruction, but most people won’t bother.’
The main criticism of such plans, and the main issue surrounding the data obtained, is its impact on privacy.
Raymond Plzak, from The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said: ‘The inconsistent protection of privacy, whether private information is voluntarily provided or not, as well as the inconsistent protection against exploitation will continue to be the bane of connected environment.’
He continued that if local, regional, national and international private and public sector companies fail to join forces and accept a universal way of handling these privacy issues, sharing data and being connected will become more limited by 2025.
This will also have an impact on preventing content being shared around the world.
In 1984, character Winston Smith is told to edit reports and control the flow of opinion using the government’s language Newspeak, and experts feel this is already happening, in places such as North Korea.
And they predict that, by 2025, this will become more common place, and widespread across the West too.
‘The increased Balkanisation of the internet is a possible outcome of the [Edward] Snowden revelations, as people seek to develop systems that are less accessible by the NSA, GCHQ and so on,’ said Professor Kate Crawford, a research scientist at the MIT Center for Civic Media.
‘Meanwhile, the dominant content companies may seek ever more rigorous ways to prevent the flow of copyright content within and across borders.’
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden recently condemned the UK’s plans for an emergency surveillance bill, voicing concerns about the lack of public debate, fear-mongering and what he described ‘as increased powers of intrusion’.
Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S pushed forward with plans to let internet service providers charge content companies for faster and more reliable delivery of their traffic to users.
The controversial ‘fast lane’ rules received heavy criticism from many companies that do business online, along with open internet advocates.
Under the plans for priority usage, Netflix for example, could pay extra to use fast lanes to get the maximum amount of bandwith to its customers.
At the heart of net neutrality is an open internet in which all data being sent from websites to customers is treated the same, regardless of size or destination.
All this traffic is given the same priority along the same lanes and no site is given preferential treatment.
Although it seems like a fair model, in which sites that use the most bandwith pay the most money, campaigners claim it will drastically impact on industry competition.
Experts, including Glenn Edens, director of research in networking, security, and distributed systems at PARC said: ‘Network operators’ desire to monetise their assets to the detriment of progress represents the biggest potential problem.’
A post-doctoral researcher, who was not named in the report, continued: ‘We are seeing an increase in walled gardens created by giants like Facebook and Apple.
‘Commercialization of the internet, paradoxically, is the biggest challenge to the growth of the Internet. Communication networks’ lobbying against net neutrality is the biggest example of this.’
Earlier today, the Internet Association wrote to the Federal Communications Commission claiming that broadband providers could turn the internet into ‘a pay-for-priority platform more closely resembling cable television than today’s onternet.’
The group, which represents Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and others, urged the Commission to protect its open and neutral architecture, which is the force behind the internet’s success.
PJ Rey, a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Maryland, added that by 2025: ‘It is very possible we will see the principle of net neutrality undermined.
‘In a political paradigm where money equals political speech so much hinges on how much ISPs and content providers are willing and able to spend on defending their competing interests.
‘Unfortunately, the interests of everyday users count for very little.’
While a former chair of an IETF working group concluded : ‘Corporate influence on the political process will largely eliminate the public’s freedom to do as they please on the internet.
‘I would like to see the internet come to be regarded as a public utility, as broadcast spectrum was, but I think the concentration of power is too extreme for that degree of freedom to happen.’