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Internet freedom is dying, Black Hat conference told


LAS VEGAS—Far from being a place of freedom, innovation and information, the Internet is dying, Stanford University’s Jennifer Granick told a packed house at the Black Hat computer security conference Wednesday.

“It’s not the level playing field that we once thought it would be,” she said.

The openness and freedom that originally made the online world so disruptive is fading, Granick says, and the once freewheeling Net is being replaced with a centralized, regulated entity.

The Internet, she fears, could end up like TV.

“It’s going to be this slick, stiff, controlled, closed thing,” said Granick, a lawyer and director of civil liberties at the Center for Internet and Society.

She gave the opening keynote address at the conference, which this year has drawn more than 10,000 security researchers to Las Vegas.

A long-time thinker and activist on computer crime and security, electronic surveillance and consumer privacy, Granick has also defended several well-known hackers against what she feels was overzealous government prosecution.

She painted a picture for the audience of what the Internet could look like if the Net continues on its current path.

She told the assembled hackers and security professionals they needed to be part of changing that trajectory, because they understood what is being lost in a way few others do.

Especially worrisome, she says, are increasing efforts on the part of companies to bar people from breaking down and studying the software used in commercial products — the raison d’ètre of hackers.

While most people aren’t inclined to take a piece of software code and disassemble it, making that illegal means as a society we’re unable to deeply understand the software that today is “deciding whether you get a home loan, whether your get a job, where your car goes,” Granick said.

“We’re losing the freedom to tinker,” she said. “The message is clear — you need permission to operate in their world. If you step over the line, we’ll come for you.”

She also sees privacy and free speech being chipped away by regulation and globalization.

For example, Europe last year declared a Right to Be Forgotten. It allows someone who feels they have been harmed by material posted online, even if it is true, to petition and have it removed from search engine results.

France is now pushing to make that extraterritorial, so that the material would not just be removed from search results in France but globally.

If one country can impose its idea of what’s appropriate for online to the rest of the world, all can. “It’s a race to the bottom,” she said.

To overcome this, hackers, programmers and those building Internet systems need to make them decentralized, add in encryption to make it harder for governments to snoop on citizens and fight against laws that muzzle free speech.

And if that doesn’t work, Granick “we need to smash it apart and make something new and better.”

TORONTO STAR | BUSINESS