Google’s Eric Schmidt spoke at the 9th annual All Things Digital Conference, in an interview with Walt Mossberg, as reported on Page R6 in the June 6, 2011 Wall Street Journal.
Q: “…impact of access to information and mobile revolution and the cloud and all these things on policy, on governments. What is the impact?”
A: “Rather than the traditional Realist view of foreign policy, which is about states fighting against states, a more modern view is to look at it fom the standpoint of consumers and the Internet and their adoption of these technologies. If you imagine, for example, what the perfectly executing evil dictator would do with all this technology, complete supervision, complete tracking. And then you imagine what the dissident in that society would do using the very best encryption tools. Unfortunately, you conclude that exactly the same tools are the ones that would have been used by terrorist against an open society. These are questions that I don’t think people are really ready for.”
In other words, two situations are annoyingly similar: “little good guy against the big bad guy” looks exactly the same as the “little bad guy against the big good guy”. This is unfortunate because it becomes unclear that good comes from outlawing or restricting one side of the equation. Depending on the situation, maybe the tracking and surveillance is bad. In another situation, maybe the encryption and anonymity is bad. You can’t deprive terrorists without depriving dissidents. You can’t deprive evil dictators without depriving open society [big good governments]. Ouch. Not simple. What should Google do?
I am impressed that this is a very mature and broad-based cultural and social concience being exhibited by a for-profit, publicly held company. Usually within business, there is some right answer limited by people or finances or competition. In this case, there is no clear “right answer” (or in Google-speak “no evil done”) that waits to be implemented. Google could go either way, but they as a company and we as a society, don’t know which way to go. Google is bringing up both sides of the issues and they find that the technical/legal community just isn’t ready to do the hard work of asking the questions toward non-trite answers.