Web founder Berners-Lee calls for online 'Magna Carta' to protect users

LONDON Wed Mar 12, 2014 1:04pm EDT

World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee delivers a speech at the Bilbao Web Summit in the Palacio Euskalduna May 17, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent West

World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee delivers a speech at the Bilbao Web Summit in the Palacio Euskalduna May 17, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent West

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LONDON (Reuters) - The inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, called on Wednesday for bill of rights to protect freedom of speech on the Internet and users' rights after leaks about government surveillance of online activity.

Exactly 25 years since the London-born computer scientist invented the web, Berners-Lee said there was a need for a charter like England's historic Magna Carta to help guarantee fundamental principles online.

Web privacy and freedom have come under scrutiny since former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden last year leaked a raft of secret documents revealing a vast U.S. government system for monitoring phone and Internet data.

Accusations that NSA was mining personal data of users of Google, Facebook, Skype and other U.S. companies prompted President Barack Obama to announce reforms in January to scale back the NSA programme and ban eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies of the United States.

Berners-Lee said it was time for a communal decision as he warned that growing surveillance and censorship, in countries such as China, threatened the future of democracy.

"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 told BBC Radio on Wednesday.

"Or 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?" he said, referring to the 1215 English charter.

While acknowledging the state needed the power to tackle criminals using the Internet, he has called for greater oversight over spy agencies such Britain's GCHQ and the NSA, and over any organizations collecting data on private individuals.

He has previously spoken in support of Snowden, saying his actions were "in the public interest".

Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium, a global community with a mission to lead the web to its full potential, have launched a year of action for a campaign called the Web We Want, urging people to push for an Internet "bill of rights" for every country.

"Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years," he told the Guardian newspaper.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Alison Williams)

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Comments (2)
tmc wrote:
Over the next twenty years, the WWW will disappear as we know it. It will morph into well controlled, well separated interconnected networks. These will be viewed as national infrastructure of the nation. There are many reasons for this to happen, both good and bad depending on your point of view.

Mar 12, 2014 8:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
usagadfly wrote:
The only way for individuals and private organizations to have a secure, non-secret-police and non-commercial internet is to set up a separate physical communications structure set up to provide that intentionally. Among other things, private servers should start dropping packets from known commercial and Government serving sources rather than forwarding them. In the USA, our internet “providers” who have been given protected Government monopolies, already slow down users who only pay subscription fees for services received instead of “extra” fees for preferential packet treatment.

Any Government granted or supervised internet communications structure here is corrupt and tilted against the interests of its subscribing users. Only businesses and their customers are treated as they should. The only obvious solution is to divorce the commercial and secret police worlds from our private communications networks. Packet dropping is a good first start.

Mar 12, 2014 12:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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