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Recent leaks about widespread NSA surveillance have brought privacy and security to the forefront of the public consciousness as we strive to determine best practices in governance for the Internet era. People are also concerned about network neutrality and how the Internet currently relies on protocols (such as DNS) that require regulation by central authorities, which increases the potential for abuse by oppressive and corrupt regimes.

My question is: what efforts are currently underway to develop alternative secure distributed protocols that do not rely on central authorities? Which initiatives are the most mature? What critical pieces of infrastructure are still missing? What projects would be good to contribute to in this regard? Will we ever get to a point where the core protocols are robust and secure enough that surveillance and centralized control of the Internet becomes effectively infeasible?

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Bitcoin brings with it the blockchain protocol, which in my opinion is one of the most exciting solutions to decentralization problems that exists today.

Namecoin and dot-bit have already leveraged the blockchain protocol to provide a decentralized DNS. In principle, as long as the majority of participants in the network, or miners (>50%) agree to honour the data in the blockchain, DNS records stored in it will be treated as valid and correct. No entity can affect that without control of more than 50% of 'mining' nodes.

You have really asked several questions here, but I believe this is the most significant answer to your most significant question - how can we create an Internet which is specified based on what the majority want?

The only pitfalls to the blockchain protocol in terms of enabling a centralized control of Internet functionality are that participants may require incentive to validate the data (mine). For the Bitcoin blockchain, this incentive is a currency which has value. For the Namecoin blockchain, it is that you can purchase domain names - however since this is so cheap, the only remaining practical incentive is if you care about the system and want it to remain under decentralized control.

Therefore for decentralization to work, for the current best solution, we need all participants to have a respect for the goal of decentralization and to make an investment to mining to preserve it.

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Realistically, VPNs and any successors to VPN technology will play a huge role, in fact VPN already does. People will eventually realise that they want both a lack of surveillance and, more to the point for the average Joe, an ability to get up to whatever they like, be it torrenting etc.

It's only an opinion (and therefore not necessarily suitable for Security.SE) but I'd say that adhoc networking could see an interesting rise, with P2P protocols playing an important role. The issue that we as the internet have with privacy is largely that we don't control the network, but someone does. If I connect to this site through Verizon, AT&T etc., those companies can be cajoled into releasing info, but conversely, if we controlled our own slices of the internet, we couldn't, but the networks would be much worse. This is why I expect that P2P and more extensive crypto will play a huge role, allowing us to transfer information over existing networks with less possibility of interception.

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