Sir Tim Berners-Lee: World wide web needs bill of rights


Sir Tim Berners-Lee wants more rights for users of the web

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The inventor of the world wide web has marked the 25th anniversary of his creation by calling for a 'Magna Carta' bill of rights to protect its users.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee told BBC Breakfast the issue could be compared to the importance of human rights.

He has been an outspoken critic of government surveillance following a series of leaks from ex-US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Sir Tim called on people to take action and protest against surveillance.

'Communal decision'

He told BBC Breakfast the online community has now reached a crossroads.

"It's time for us to make a big communal decision," he said. "In front of us are two roads - which way are we going to go?

"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?

"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?"

A 1992 copy of the world's first web page Looking at the world's first web page shows how much has changed online
The NeXT cube, the original machine on which Sir Tim Berners-Lee designed the world wide web The NeXT cube machine on which Sir Tim designed the world wide web
Sir Tim Berners-Lee Sir Tim took part in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

Sir Tim said the internet should be a "neutral" medium that can be used without feeling "somebody's looking over our shoulder".

He called for vigilance against surveillance by its users, adding: "The people of the world have to be constantly aware, constantly looking out for it - constantly making sure through action, protest, that it doesn't happen."

Sir Tim has previously warned that surveillance could threaten the democratic nature of the web.

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

Browser favourites

  • The BBC website and Facebook are the UK's most popular sites, according to a survey of 2,001 adults
  • The poll for internet registry firm Nominet, found 24% of people chose Facebook as their favourite website
  • The BBC was second, with 20% choosing the site
  • Amazon was third with 9%
  • Gmail and Yahoo were both chosen by 5% of those polled

Source: Nominet

The idea that the world wide web would end up playing such a huge role in people's lives would have seemed "crazy" 25 years ago, said Sir Tim.

He admitted that the web represented "humanity connected", involving both the "wonderful" and the "ghastly".

But he added: "I don't have a lot of sympathy with people who say: 'There's so much rubbish on the web.'

"Well, if there's so much rubbish, if it's rubbish, don't read it. Go read something else."

The web we want campaign has been set up by Sir Tim's World Wide Web Foundation to coincide with the 25th anniversary and aims to protect human rights online.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    And in the meantime, the dark web continues to grow... nice idea but will never happen. It's too big and spans too many countries with very different ideas. If we could get a bill of rights to work for this, don't you think we would have ended torture, persecution and wars?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I agree with 21.Ken T - it is easy to give away 'rights' to people but how about making sure they are aware of their 'responsibilities'?! Next we will see terrorists and child abusers hiding their disgusting work on the internet protected by their 'rights'! As much as I want my own privacy I don't want criminals to get away with their crimes on the internet either!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    It would be great to have this happen, but getting letting every user have their say sounds like a massive challenge - and in the spirit of the w3, everyone should have their say. Not least because some countries insist on flexing the government's muscle controlling access to this neutral information space, and will unlikely relinquish that power.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The biggest problem is individual protection for web users. I hate having things infect my computer, it is constant and very difficult to keep on top of. If it is possible to hack into my computer for criminal activity then there is always going to be the possiblity this will happen so i have no problem in gov. bodies working to prevent this but it gives them knowledge and insights open to abuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Absolutely impossible to manage.

    Great idea sure but there will always be someone or some group who will ignore what ever rules, regulations or "values" the majority signs up to..

    If they think they will be able to get away with something they will try. It's human nature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Google and Amazon do more Internet monitoring than any Government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Setting up the framework and goals is a good idea.
    Some form of auditing and "certification" could also bring more transparency regarding compliant providers.

    Effective policing for "rogue" parties remains the challenge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    By replying to this I have probably been earmarked for further investigation by the security services of USA, Russia, U.K. etc. What a rotten and sad state for the citizens of this world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Governments never let something silly like a law or constitution get in their way. They'll simply sign up, make a great speech about how wonderful the internet is for the economy and then go back to snooping.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Before we set out the "rights" of users, set out the responsibilities of users. We always emphasise people's rights but the "rights" should be tempered by a clear set of responsibilities. If you do not accept your responsibilities then you can expect no "rights".

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    People seem to forget that in so called democratic countries the government work for us the people. We tell them what we want not the other way around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    You only need protection from government is you are a seriously dangerous criminal. I'd rather allow a government operative to sniff my data-trail than get blown up by some preventable terrorism incident. Similarly regarding a DNA database. People should stop using their feelings and start using their brains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    What really scares governments is the fact that if they can see everything we do we can see everything they do.
    Any government who resists this is by definition undemocratic and tyrannical and needs to be overthrown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    After the people have had a new 'Bill of Rights'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Well the Magna Carta was ignored by King John very shortly after he signed it, was basically forgotten for several hundred years, then only "popped up" every time some group of nobles wanted to increase their power.

    So if the web did get one - i'd expect it to go much the same way

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This replicates the thinking in my book I sent to you. And I thought you were a man of integrity. Thanks Tim

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    First of all, talking about "(putting) in place a bunch of values" is a sure sign that Sir Tim has no idea what values are. In the second place, equating the world wide web with freedom from torture, starvation or illiteracy is an insult to those who have real injustices to bear. He should be ashamed of himself

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The NSA revelations have shown us a few things :

    1 ) There is a global conspiracy to end priacy, we can see this because no ministers want to talk about our privacy, these issuies have been swept under the rug in the UK.

    2 ) Governments can not be trusted when handling end user privacy of the web, they want to harvest, and collect more information to make it easier for them to control us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I think a level of surveillance may be appropriate in certain circumstances as long as the appropriate controls and safeguards are in place.

    The Internet and WWW are a vast communications tool so it may be appropriate to track communications similar to other mediums. It is a fact that there have been disasters and terrorist attacks stopped as a result

    The key is in the controls and safeguards


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