Alina Selyukh

Google Inc. executive chairman Eric Schmidt has a bold prediction: censorship around the world could end in a decade, and better use of encryption will help people overcome government surveillance.

In a lecture at Johns Hopkins University, the executive of the world’s biggest web search company made a pitch for ending censorship in China and other countries with restricted freedom of speech by connecting everyone to the internet and protecting their communication from spying.

“First they try to block you; second, they try to infiltrate you; and third, you win. I really think that’s how it works. Because the power is shifted,” he said.

“I believe there’s a real chance that we can eliminate censorship and the possibility of censorship in a decade.”

Schmidt has long spoken out against limitations to the freedom of expression and restricted internet access around the world. Earlier this year, he travelled to North Korea, a country disconnected from the rest of the world, to promote the cause.

“It’s clear that we failed. But we’ll try again. We have not been invited back,” he said of the personal trip, the timing of which was later criticised by the US State Department as being not helpful because it came shortly after North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket.

The goal for North Korea, Schmidt said, was not democracy for now but to merely get the people to connect with the rest of the world: “My view is that if we can get some connectivity, then they’ll begin to open the country, they’ll begin to understand other systems.”

On the home front, too, Google is now one of several tech companies embroiled in the controversy over the reach of US government spying. Top-secret documents disclosed by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden have suggested the National Security Agency has tapped Google’s and others’ communications links to aid in its gathering of intelligence.

Schmidt at the time said that the NSA’s activity, if true, was outrageous and potentially illegal.

Google, at which Schmidt served as CEO until 2011, has faced its own criticism for intercepting data over the years. The company acknowledged in 2010 that a fleet of cars it operates to map the world’s streets had mistakenly collected passwords and other personal data from home consumers’ wireless networks over a two-year period.

Earlier this week, Google agreed to pay $17 million to settle a probe by 37 US states that it bypassed privacy settings on the iPhone’s web browser and tracked web users.

“The solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everyone,” Schmidt said, referring to the process of encoding data to secure it.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaking during a talk titled ‘Connecting with the world: empowering young entrepreneurs for the new digital Age’ at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, earlier this month. Photo: Bobby Yip/Reuters

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