Schmidt was speaking during an on-stage interview with Box CEO Aaron Levie at the BoxDev conference, hosted by the newly-public cloud storage company. Box was presenting its case to an assembled crowd of 2,400 developers, writes Matt Weinberger for Business Insider.

Google's Schmidt Describes North Korean Internet

Google Chairman and Box CEO discuss internet

Discussion turned to the importance of an internet free from government censorship and interference, as well as the differences between the internet in the U.S. and other countries around the world. The Google Chairman claimed that North Korea was almost a worst-case scenario, having effectively cut itself off from the worldwide web and created an “intranet” containing state-approved content and nothing much else.

Schmidt went on to claim that North Korean college students have to access the internet in pairs. Citizens of the Hermit Kingdom are effectively cut off from the rest of the world, and prevented from hearing about what is going on.

“New kinds of proxy and firewall technologies might be able to break that, but it’s not true today,” Schmidt says. Levie jokingly proposed selling his company’s cloud storage service in North Korea, to which Google’s Schmidt replied: “It’s highly illegal to sell to North Korea…Aaron.”

Levie lightheartedly pressed the issue, asking Schmidt what was the worst that could happen. Apparently sales to North Korea, along with three other countries, would land Levie in jail. “There are four countries on that list, you need to know who they are,” Schmidt said.

Freedom of information on the agenda

The lighthearted segment was part of a more serious conversation about how Google perceives the importance of freedom of information. Schmidt claimed to be a firm believer in the idea that authorities should need a search warrant for information, and called electronic surveillance a big problem.

He said that Google is tightening up on access to its information, leading to a raft of complaints from snooping government agencies. “Now all the people who are snooping are complaining,” Schmidt said.

Despite these issues, Schmidt is generally optimistic on the future of the internet. Reforms to net neutrality and strong public interest in the subject, as well as the First Amendment, mean that the situation is not as bad as it could be. “The good news is that North Korea is much worse,” quipped Schmidt.