Between the massive spying and leaks: what will be the future of the Internet?

Responsible for creating the infrastructure of large network of networks, Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn say about the challenges facing the world unfold on line after the controls exercised by the national security agencies. 

When Edward Snowden, the contractor employee disaffected from the National Security Agency (NSA is the acronym in English) stole tens of thousands of classified documents from computers around the world, their actions–and its consequences that still reverberate – increased international pressure to control the network that has increasingly become the scenario of the world. At stake is the technical principle that underlies the Internet connectivity of “any to any”. That ability has defined technology since Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn were sequestered in a conference room in a hotel in Palo Alto, California, in 1973 with the task of interconnecting computer networks to an elite group of scientists, engine       ers and military personnel.

The two men ended up developing a set of simple and universal for exchanging digital information rules, the conventions of the large network of networks. Despite many technological changes, prevails in their work.

But while the overall capacity of the Internet to connect to anyone with anything has affected every corner of modern-seeing lives transformed politics, education, espionage, war, civil liberties, entertainment, sex, science , finance and manufacturing-its growth has increasingly paradoxes. It was, for example, the global reach of the Internet which put classified documents available to Snowden and what made ​​too easy distribution to news organizations.

But the Internet also made possible the widespread surveillance, a practice that triggered alarmed Snowden and his plan to steal and publicly disseminate information. The debate now involves two international organizations, usually known by its acronym (in English), with different visions: Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and the ITU or International Telecommunication Union.

Icann, an NGO that monitors basic Internet functions such as naming websites, was established in 1998 by the U.S. government to create an international forum to “govern” the Network continues to support U.S. this group.

The ITU, founded in 1865 as the International Telegraph Convention, is the telecommunications regulatory agency of the United Nations. Nations like Brazil, China and Russia have been pressing the U.S. government to transfer the Internet to this organization.

Cerf, 70, and Kahn, 75, have taken slightly different positions on the issue. Cerf was president of Icann between 2000 and 2007, is known as an “ambassador Internet” casual and a strong proponent of an Internet that remains independent of state control. It has been one of the main supporters of the idea of ​​”network neutrality,” the principle that Internet service providers must provide access to all content and applications, regardless of the source. Kahn has made a determined effort to stay out of the debate on net neutrality. However, it has been more willing to work with the ITU, particularly in the attempt to build support for a system known as Digital Object Architecture (Digital Object Architecture), to track and authenticate the content distributed over the Internet.

Both men agreed to separate interviews, to discuss their views on the future of the Internet. The interviews were edited and condensed.

future of the Internet


After acting as program manager in the agency’s Advanced Research Projects Defense Pentagon, Vinton Cerf joined to the MCI Communications Corp, one of the first commercial Internet companies, which was acquired by Verizon in 2006, to head the development of e-mail systems. In 2005 he became vice president and “Internet evangelist” for Google. Last year he became president of the Association for Computing Machinery, an educational computing society and international scientific leader.

Edward Snowden’s actions have caused a new storm of controversy over the role of the Internet. Is it a significant new challenge in an open, global network?

The answer is no, I think not. There are similar analogies in history. Historically the French copied each one telex or telegram sent and shared with companies to stay competitive. When that became known, did not end with the telegraph system. Snowden’s revelations increased interest in end to end encryption for encrypting data in transit and storage. For many, including me included, I believe it is an important skill that you must have, and this little crisis may be what induces people to devote time and energy to learn how to use it.

You made the analogy of a road or highway system. That suggests the requirement for a driver’s license to use the Internet, which raises questions about accountability and anonymity.

I still believe that anonymity is an important skill that people should have the ability to speak anonymously. It is argued that people will be encouraged to say things that are untrue, harmful things, especially if you think being anonymous. There is a tension there because in some ways the only way to act safely is remaining anonymous.

The other side of the coin is that I think a strong authentication is required. In this we support the whole spectrum. In some cases we want capabilities to make complaints and to protect anonymity. Some governments will not tolerate anonymity, and our government is still somewhat debated.

Can effectively govern the Internet?

Deliberately argue that new institutions are needed.

To what extent is significant danger that looks Balkanized Internet, as critics fear of UTI?

Balkanization is too simple concept. The Web has a strange mixture of permeability and impermeability. You can not communicate with everyone and not all applications will be accessible to all. We will be forced to miss the basic and simple notion that everyone should be able to communicate with everyone.

I am disappointed that idyllic utopia that everyone can communicate with everyone and do what they want will be the model. What is the right word? ISD is the wrong word, because it sounds too widespread. Variable is perhaps the best way of putting it. The point-to-point connectivity varies according to the location.

How has withstood the test of time your original design?

Everything has been expanded by a factor of a million since we launched in the 1973. The number of machines in the network, network speeds, the type of memory capacity. Everything is ten to the sixth.

I would say that there are not many systems have been designed that can withstand an escalation of a million without going into complete collapse. But that does not mean it will work that way.

Does the ITU and its effort to take over the government of the network is a threat to an open Internet?

People complained about my malicious comment. I said that these dinosaurs do not know they are dead, because the signal takes to travel both their long necks and get their brains the size of a pea. Some people felt insulted. I felt gratified. For me it is not at all clear that the generation of ITU standards have kept pace it needs. The result is that they are becoming less relevant.

Beyond the mobile network and the Internet of things, what’s on the horizon?

There are a couple of things. One of them is related to the measurement and monitoring. It gives us the ability to see trends and see things you might not see with too small a sample. That, plus large aggregates to see what we expect to be sufficiently anonymized information, you can help to reveal states which otherwise could not see.

It’s like you can uncover trends flu. I see it as a kind of sociological or socio-economic tomography which helps us to see the dynamics of the world in ways we might not otherwise see. And of course leads to all sorts of privacy concerns and the like.


Darpa Officer from 1972 to 1985 Robert Kahn created the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, based in Reston, Virginia, in 1986. There has focused on managing and distributing digital content in the world, not as a Google trademark. It has cooperated with the ITU in the development of new standards for networks.

The Snowden affair raises a paradox. Internet made ​​it relatively easy to do what I did, and at the same time allowed the dramatic increased surveillance that alarmed him. How do you interpret that? I would limit that a bit. You could say that oxygen enabled him to, because without oxygen would not be alive. Or your parents made ​​you can do that.

Does the scandal involve more generally for the future of the Web?

You can not look at the crystal ball and see the future. Internet will be in the future what society makes of it. This will provide the companies will be new products and services. They are the new ideas that come and nobody thought before.

And looking beyond?

If you ask me how it will look in 100 years, I’m sure going to be like. I.e. all say we know we require connectivity between computing devices. We all know that access to information is important, and then what is different? That’s equal to what it was then.

You can say the same about the transport. What’s new transportation? Well, people still need to go from here to there and sometimes it is not safe. You can go faster, but that’s just a parameter that has changed.

Does Snowden scandal have changed the dynamics surrounding privacy and surveillance? How will the debate?

There have always been ways in which people can access things, so instead of being able to login because it has a key for this file, or this key or firewall (firewall), has a key to a physical room or the key of safe.

The theft of this kind is not new. The question is: do I change the scale of the theft? Probably. If they were physical materials, someone had said, “What are you doing out the door with those truck trailers?”

Is there a solution to the challenges to privacy and security?

In the 1990s when I was part of the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee Internet, Al Gore appeared to be vice president, and gave an impassioned speech in favor of Clipper chip (an ancient system of government oversight). He said: “We have to be very aware of the needs of national security and law enforcement.” While the private sector defended the strong encryption, the federal government needed to monitor. Came to nothing and he has not come to anything today. I think it is probably easier to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem to solve this.

Can Internet be governed? What about disputes between the various agencies engaged in setting standards regarding the control of the network?

No matter what you do, anywhere in the world will have the ability to set their own internal rules. Any country in the world can close the net. It’s not about technical things, it is not about what is right or what is wrong, and there is no question that global Internet governance is good or bad. It’s just something we live.

I myself used to perform the function (management) of Icann personally with a 3 by 5 card in my pocket and when I had to use two cards Jon Postel asked if he could take over. You have to look at it in perspective. Now it’s a huge business and it locks with a few things.

Would it be possible to start again and build a new infrastructure to solve the problems facing the current network?

You can not do a total replacement. If you think that there is too much spam (junk mail) today, tell me what is your solution, because if you are designing an Internet from scratch and does not have a solution to the spam, it’s going to have spam in the new network and there’s going to be those who argue in favor of another Internet from scratch, because yours didn’t work. It’s like saying we have insecurity in society, and then let it blow up the planet and build another. The new planet is probably too insecure.

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