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Inventor calls for web bill of rights

Inventor calls for web bill of rights

Pic: Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Alex Mikro photo
Pic: Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Alex Mikro photo

CLA supports the call of web inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, for civil society worldwide to develop a ‘bill of rights’ to protect our liberties and freedoms online.

Inventor calls for web bill of rights

The man who invented the world wide web believes we need a Bill of Rights for how it works in future.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is the Englishman who created the web, expressly designing its protocols to give rights of access freely to all people worldwide.

Sir Tim says we need an online “Magna Carta” to protect the right of access and to makes sure the web remains independent and free of government control.

Civil Liberties Australia believes his call is spot-on. At the very least, civil liberties, privacy and rights groups in each of the ‘Five Eyes’ surveillance nations (US, UK, NZ, Canada, Australia) should develop their own version, then swap notes.

Sit Tim told Jemima Kiss, writing in the Guardian, that the web was under attack from governments and corporations.

We need new rules were needed to protect the “open, neutral” system, he said.

Speaking exactly 25 years after he wrote the first draft of the first proposal for what would become the world wide web, the computer scientist said: “We need a global constitution – a bill of rights.”

Berners-Lee’s Magna Carta plan is to be taken up as part of an initiative called “the web we want”*, which calls on people to generate a digital bill of rights in each country – a statement of principles he hopes will be supported by public institutions, government officials and corporations.

Pic: Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Alex Mikro photo

“Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”

Sir Tim has roundly crticised the US and British spy agencies’ surveillance of citizens revelealed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. I

His views include anger about the efforts by the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ to undermine encryption and security tools – something many cybersecurity experts say has been counterproductive and undermined everyone’s security.

Principles of privacy, free speech and responsible anonymity would be explored in the Magna Carta scheme. “These issues have crept up on us,” Berners-Lee said. “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.”

The web constitution proposal should also examine the impact of copyright laws and the cultural-societal issues around the ethics of technology.

While regional regulation and cultural sensitivities would vary, Berners-Lee said he believed a shared document of principle could provide an international standard for the values of the open web.

He is optimistic that the “web we want” campaign can be mainstream, despite the apparent lack of awareness of public interest in the Snowden story.

Sir Tim also spoke out strongly in favour of changing a key and controversial element of internet governance that would remove a small but symbolic piece of US control. The US has clung on to the Iana contract, which controls the dominant database of all domain names, but has faced increased pressure post-Snowden.

He said: “The removal of the explicit link to the US department of commerce is long overdue. The US can’t have a global place in the running of something which is so non-national. There is huge momentum towards that uncoupling but it is right that we keep a multi-stakeholder approach, and one where governments and companies are both kept at arm’s length.”

Sir Tim has stuck firmly to the principle of openness, inclusivity and democracy since he invented the web in 1989, choosing not to commercialise his model. Rejecting the idea that government and commercial control of such a powerful medium was inevitable, Berners-Lee said it would be impossible: “Not until they prise the keyboards from our cold, dead fingers.”

It was at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in Geneva where he embarked on projects which would lead to the creation of the world wide web. His aim was to allow researchers all over the world to share documents and his first proposals were judged as “vague but interesting” by a manager at Cern.

He combined existing technology such as the internet and hypertext to produce an immense interconnected document storage system. Berners-Lee labelled it the world wide web, which was first open to new users in 1991, and in 1992, the first browser was created to scan and select the millions of documents which already existed.

– Bill Rowlings, from the Guardian story:



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