Governments will start 'lashing back' as internet grows

Alec Ross
Image caption Alec Ross is Hillary Clinton's senior adviser for innovation

Governments pose the biggest threat to global innovation, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton has warned.

Speaking at LeWeb London, Alec Ross said the "hierarchy of control" is being taken from those in power and onto citizens.

He warned that governments all over the world would start "lashing back" as this control was lost.

He cited the collapse of anti-piracy legislation Sopa as a wake-up call to US politicians.

"As power is shifting from hierarchies to citizens, and networks of citizens, governments tend to feel overwhelmed," he said.

"They feel over-run by this change. As movements accelerate; as revolutions increasingly make use of connective technologies; as pieces of legislation with massive corporate backing get shot in the head because of citizen-centered networks, what you should anticipate is a lashing back from government."

Sopa - the Stop Online Piracy Act - was subjected to a massive co-ordinated protest by internet users who were worried it would restrict internet freedom.

Mr Ross, who is regarded as Mrs Clinton's most high-profile advisor on technology and innovation-related issues, said some US politicians had found themselves confronted by young family members over the Sopa bill.

As a result, many US politicians changed their stance and chose to oppose Sopa.

He warned the conference attendees, made up mostly of developers and other technology innovators, that those in power would start to get "up in your face all the more" as a result of the Sopa fall-out.

Governments would begin "seeking to control your networks, seeking to take away your internet freedom", he said.

His comments come as the UK government is looking to introduce laws allowing for the monitoring of internet use, including email and social networking.

'Shifting power'

"There is a massive shift in geopolitical power," Mr Ross added. "It's from hierarchies, including government and big media. There's a shift in power to citizens and networks of citizens.

"This shifting power is being enabled by connecting technologies.

"The biggest threat to your ability to innovate comes from government, and I say that from Hillary Clinton's office in the US State Department.

Speaking of recent revolutions in Tunisia and Libya, he said that while it was becoming easier for revolutions to start and grow rapidly, social network-driven uprisings resulted in countries being left without a clear successor.

"There's nobody's face you're going to put on a t-shirt," he said.

"Instead of a single, charismatic figure inspiring the masses from on high, leadership in these revolutions looks like a web."

He said this presented challenges for countries trying to rebuild after uprisings, as demonstrated by the volatile political situation in Egypt.

"It makes it more difficult once the dictators actually get taken out. There is that gap in leadership."

He said he believed that mobile connectivity would make it harder for repressive governments to censor their citizens.

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