Sir Tim Berners-Lee: World Wide Web Needs a ‘Bill of Rights’

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee, widely credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web, believes that the online world needs a ‘Bill of Rights’ to help protect users.

“Are we going to continue on the road and just allow the governments to do more and more and more control—more and more surveillance?” he said in an interview with the BBC. “Or are we going to set up a bunch of values? Are we going to set up something like a Magna Carta for the world wide web and say, actually, now it’s so important, so much part of our lives, that it becomes on a level with human rights?”

Berners-Lee insists that the World Wide Web remain a “neutral” medium, one in which users push back against government attempts at increased surveillance. The Web We Want campaign, administered by his World Wide Web Foundation, has pushed public education about the benefits of the open Web, organized around a short list of principles:

  • Affordable access to a universally available communications platform

  • The protection of personal user information and the right to communicate in private

  • Freedom of expression online and offline

  • Diverse, decentralized and open infrastructure

  • Neutral networks that don’t discriminate against content or users

Freedom of speech in the physical world can’t be achieved without freedom in the online one, the Web We Want campaign suggested in a recent posting about its mission: “The Web enables everyone on the planet to participate in a free flow of knowledge, ideas, collaboration and creativity.” Berners-Lee believes such protective efforts, however, demand constant vigilance—and a legal framework.

But would governments actually obey an online ‘Bill of Rights’? That’s an open question, and the signs aren’t encouraging: If Edward Snowden’s leaks about the extent of the National Security Agency’s online surveillance demonstrated anything, it’s that government entities will go to extreme lengths to monitor millions of people. What sort of framework could prevent that?


Image: Web We Want Foundation