Political disenfranchisement? People 'become lazy', says Google chief Eric Schmidt

Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has blamed the failure of many people to engage with politics on their own laziness, rather than on a lack of information.

Speaking at a conference held by the internet giant near London yesterday, Mr Schmidt said that the recent increase in information available to voters online had made it much easier for people to hold their governments to account.

When asked how he would explain political disenfranchisement which nevertheless exists in many countries, he said: "It is not to do with openness, people become lazy. They don't understand that freedom has been fought for.

"The people who ensured these freedoms we enjoy in the West are now dead because they fought for us. Those fights began in Europe, we should remember that.

"What we are saying is that, if you want to form your own opinion, you can do it using Google."

In a briefing session held just after his speech, Mr Schmidt denounced claims that he had himself tried to suppress details of his own political donations by asking his staff to demote references to them in Google searches as "false".

He also insisted that Google would never embark on the sort of smear campaign Facebook was found last week to have perpetrated against it, saying "Obviously I've read the coverage, I think you should ask Facebook. A lot of people, not Google employees have looked at these claims and generally found them to be false. To my knowledge, no-one at Google has ever done this nor would they ever do it."

The company has been criticised in the past by those who say that it holds too much information on its customers and Schmidt himself has been quoted as saying: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." However, during the Google-organised conference Big Tent, senior Google executives said it is central to Google's policy that any data it holds remains the property of their customers and that they should be allowed to delete it at any time, using the company's dashboard facility.

In his keynote speech, the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that legislation may never be able to keep up with the pace of advances in technology but reiterated his desire to "look at" the laws surrounding legal gags on the press.

In his keynote speech, Mr Hunt said that the internet had "made a bit of an ass of the law" after details of alleged so-called "super-injunctions" were released online last week.

He added that the government would be paying attention to judges' interpretation of the Human Rights Act which he said is "inconsistent with what parliament intended when it passed the Act".

The culture secretary said: "Freedom of expression should be given priority when there is a conflict of interest and Ken Clarke and I will be looking at that.

"At the moment, we have this very unfortunate situation where newspapers are not able to print things that are freely available on the internet.

Referring to the ease with which social media users were able to break alleged injunctions online, he said: "The law has not caught up with changes in technology and we need to look at it. While we will probably never be able to keep up with technological advances, we need to be adaptable."