(Source: Fight for the Future (on Twitter))
Mr. Schmidt admits visit to North Korea didn't produce the results he hoped for, but remains optimistic

Former Google Inc. (GOOG) CEO and current Google chairman Eric Schmidt told an audience at a Johns Hopkins University lecture:

The solution to government surveillance is to encrypt everyone.  With sufficiently long keys and changing the keys all the time, it turns out it's very, very difficult for the interloper of any kind to go in and do that.

The comment unintentionally illustrates how complex and at times ironic the reality in the digital age can be.
I. Google Wants to Stop Federal Spying -- And it Knows a Thing or Two About Spying
On the one hand Mr. Schmidt is entirely right.  Encryption is the only route to privacy in an age when one man can spy on a million men at once, with the right engineering help.  And Google is playing a "cat and mouse" game with the U.S. government trying to push back hard against rampant spying by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) on Americans and the nation's internet networks.

It's easy to see why Google is concerned -- any company should be.  This spying which could easily transform into corporate espionage on behalf of the special interest donors who back America's pro-spying politicians.  And given secrecy laws it's very possible the truth would never see the light of day.  In short Big Brother isn't just a dangerous threat to political freedom ... he's a threat to the free market, as well.
But Mr. Schmidt's commentary also carries an unfortunate irony in that it was under his reign at the world's largest internet services company that a team of Google engineers conducted an obtrusive campaign of spying, intercepting data coming off unencrypted networks in the U.S. and abroad for nearly two years, using it's Street View cars.

Google Street View
Google has been fined millions for using Street View and misleading business practices to collect data on millions of Americans. [Image Source: Google]

In many ways Google's data gathering was every bit and dangerous and obtrusive as the NSA's ongoing programs.  Google has admitted to harvest email usernames and passwords -- a stunning admission from a firm championing internet privacy.  Under his leadership Google also repeatedly circumvented other companies browser privacy settings and tracked users without asking them -- all moves designed to maximize profits for the internet's biggest ad-seller.
Perhaps it's appropriate that the U.S. government let off Google relatively light.  Google was fined $22.5M USD by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in Aug. 2012 for circumventing security settings in browsers by its rivals Apple, Inc. (AAPL) (Safari) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) (Internet Explorer), to allow Google to monitor users' browsing history.  In March it agreed to pay $7M USD settlement to U.S. state regulators and an $189,000 USD settlement to regulators in Germany over the street view accusations.  Most recently, it agreed to pay an additional $17M USD to settle yet more unauthorized tracking accusations -- this time regarding its own Chrome browser.  
The grand total paid to the FTC -- less than $50M USD combined for all three fines -- will be divvied up among the 30+ states that sued Google over each incident.  But overall, those fines were a mere slap on the wrist -- about 1.5 percent of what Google makes in a single quarter of a year (Google pocketed $2.97B USD in net earnings in Q3 2013).  Then again, perhaps that's the most the feds could ask for, given the relative hypocrisy of them accusing Google of spying on Americans.

NSA money
Many top tech firms including Oracle and Amazon supported NSA spying as it gives them federal contract money.  Google, like Oracle and Amazon has moved spy on citizens -- but has looked to monetize private spying, rather government spying. [Image Source: Maplight]

Or maybe the light fine had a little something to do with $4.2M USD Google is now paying quarterly to federal politicians.  These contributions are thought to be the same force that drove the NSA to embark on its epic spying in the first place as companies like Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) urged the members of Congress (members who they helped pay to get elected) to "improve national security" -- by giving them billions in non-competitive taxpayer contracts to spy on Americans.  
Both sides -- both the groups promoting federal spying and those opposed to it are essentially two sides of the same coin, as they both heavily try to pay off federal politicians to get financial gains -- the root of this many other problems.
II. Schmidt Predicts the Unlikely Death of Censorship
But if the contrast between Google's privacy violations and lobbying versus its vocal attacks on NSA spying seem ironically inconsistent, Mr. Schmidt seems willing to overlook that aspect.  At his speech at the top research college he told the audience that his dream is to see the expansion of the internet and encryption put an end to nations like China and the U.S. censoring the internet.  
He remarks:

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

Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong-un
Like Dennis Rodman (right), Eric Schmidt (not pictured) paid North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (left) a recent friendly visit. [Image Source: Reuters]

In January Mr. Schmidt visited North Korea's capital city of Pyongyang and met with senior government officials.  In March, speaking to an audience in New Delhi, India he explained:

[North Korea] is the last really closed country in the world.  This is a country that has suffered from lack of information. The Internet was built for everyone, including North Koreans. The quickest way to get economic growth in North Korea is to open up the Internet. I did my best to tell them this.

However, the visit to the Asian nation, which was until recently ruled over by late self-proclaimed "internet expert" Kim Jong-il, appeared to produce little immediate results. At Johns Hopkins University he acknowledged:

It's clear that we failed. But we'll try again. We have not been invited back.  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.

The U.S. Department of State was less than thrilled by the Google veteran's Pyongyang outreach, which came at an icy point in North Korea and America's relationship following the controversial Dec. launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, a test of a technology that could threaten the U.S. mainland.  The launch was just the latest in a wave of fresh posturing by Kim Jong-un, son of the late Jong-il and new dictator of North Korea.  

spying is censorship
The U.S., like China and North Korea has been accused of spying on its citizens inappropriately. [Image Source: Fight For the Future]

Jong-un is much more of a riddle than his father.  He was raised in the West (Switzerland), reportedly speaks English extremely well, and is an avid fan of the National Basketball Association (NBA) -- the mostly American sports.  But if Jong-un secretly admires U.S. culture, his actions seem to say quite the opposite.  The U.S. and North Korea's diplomatic relations seem to have move little, or even worsened.  In April Jong-un thumbed his nose at regulators, restarting North Korea's nuclear fuel enrichment program.
And yet Mr. Schmidt, like former NBA star Dennis Rodman (who Mr. Schmidt jokingly compared himself to in March), seems to believe that extending the olive branch to the new dictator will prove more successful than threats waved around by the U.S. State Department.

Eric Schmidt -- Johns Hopkins Univ.
Eric Schmidt gives a lecture at Johns Hopkins Univ. [Image Source: Kaveh Sardari]

Ultimately Mr. Schmidt's dream of censorship dying within a decade may prove a fantasy, and his criticism of federal spying may be more than a little hypocritical.  But at the same time there's an incredible amount of validity in what he says.
Mr. Schmidt's message has legs to stand on its own regardless of the messenger's track record.  Even as the internet has proved a path to greater privacy intrusions and greater censorship, it also has proven a weapon to destroy these evils.  And as Mr. Schmidt says the easy way to make sure that no one can trivially track you -- be it Google or the NSA -- is to adopt strong encryption for all your networks.  Unfortunately, that approach may soon be illegal in the U.S., unless action is taken.

Sources: Johns Hopkins Univ., Reuters

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