Panel says NSA surveillance is a threat to the Internet's survival

Imagine a future where a single unified Internet no longer exists, instead being replaced by locked down local versions that exist, primarily, to keep prying eyes away from data that is private. Such is one possibility posed by current government Internet surveillance, largely resting on the NSA's shoulders, according to a panel that recently gathered to discuss the issue. Senator Ron Wyden set up the discussion panel, and many big-name individuals from within the tech industry took part, including Google's Eric Schmidt and Microsoft's General Counsel Brad Smith. The topic is a serious one, and dire warnings were given.

The NSA surveillance programs revealed in recent time by Edward Snowden and, possibly, another leaker, were at the heart of the discussion. What effect will they have if left untouched? Said Eric Schmidt, "The simplest outcome is we're going to end up breaking the Internet," with foreign governments further mobilizing to keep data in local data centers.

This could result in more vulnerability in the long run, not to mention potentially stifling things like science and knowledge. One of the first steps in fixing the broken system is to regain the trust of consumers, which won't be easy at this point, and isn't the job of companies affected by the surveillance, said the panel.

Said Microsoft's Brad Smith, in part, "Even when you put your content in our data centers or on devices that we make, you still own it and you are entitled to the legal protection under our Constitution and our laws. We will not rebuild trust until our government recognizes that fundamental principle."