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 91.

    Bill of rights?? We have NO rights where govt are concerned.

    As if..

    While ever it is possible (even though illegal with no consequence) for GCHQ and the NSA and all the other alphabets to take pictures of your living / bedroom and videos from your webcam / SmartTV for "security" and the advertisers to listen to what is said in your front room and tailor advertising to suit..this is dreamland

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I applaud the idea but it's unworkable.

    The US constitution gives individuals certain rights, such as free speech and the right to lethal weapons. However, these freedoms are regularly circumvented - Prohibition, McCarthyism, the Patriot Act.

    A web charter would be as toothless as the West in the face of Russia invading another country.

    But we must try. Let not good men do nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Tim Berners Lee is not a politician. He has no qualifications and knowledge about society or populations or how these work and survive.

    He has no experience in government and no idea how a country needs to be run.

    He has no experience in international relations or with dealing with terrorist threats

    So why people put him on a pedestal as some great god of the internet is beyond me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Anybody who seriously thinks that governments won't monitor the internet is living in cloud cuckoo land. Let's invent a new "law" akin to Murphy's law. "Internet monitoring by governments will increase year on year at a rate proportional to .........(you fill in the rest)!

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Yes as I thought by replying to this item earlier on, I've now received an out of area and a 'with-held' number on my phone, my computers running slower (being scanned)....obviously now being surveilled by the security services of Russia, North Korea,US,UK and any other country or organisation that fancies a look.
    Freedom!!!!!!!! let my people go!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I would rather have a bill of rights that no warped delusional person would use the internet as a means to assist in the killing of people I love.

    It is like fighting against the person who saved you from the bully at school.

  • Comment number 85.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    No government can leave an ungoverned space like that - it'd be irresponsible. So governments will engage. We could come up with some kind of code of conduct. But we'd never get all governments to sign it. And it'd be unenforceable even if they did. If you think holding the NSA to account is hard, try it with the Russian and Chinese agencies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    The problem is that whenever someone invents something absolutely brilliant, idiots always come along to ruin it. This started with farming with over farming giving rise to deserts thro' to penicillin with overuse causing the evolution of superbugs and the www becoming a superhighway for terrorists, spies, crooks and perverts. The www must be protected from these criminals and that means policing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Anyone protesting against surveillance will of course be immediately put under surveillance. In most, if not all countries, electronic surveillance is increasing not decreasing. Anyone using any form of electronic information transfer can and will be monitored. Does anyone for one minute imagine the NSA will stop what it is doing just because a temporary President tells them to?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Freedom from surveillance would be wonderful, but the siren call of control is too seductive for any government to resist. After all, what's good for the government is good for the people, isn't it?

    Even if governments pay lip service to the idea, the recently publicised activities of America's NSA show that the reality is the exact opposite. Any government that can do these things will do them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Like it or not the Web is here, and so the Internet has become an integral part of the fabric of everyday life. The temptation for all that juicy data to be mined is irresistible. So where do we go from here? Encryption seems the only practical way forward, but then you must have something to hide if you don't want someone else looking - mustn't you?
    That my friends is the paradox!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    The internet has changed the world.

    It's future should be in the hands of the people and not controlled by governments and businesses.

    I remember the days prior to the internet. How did we cope!!??!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    63. F41NXS : have you considered its people like you who resort to personal abuse when I say I'd vote against independence which just reassure me I'm right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Hey, maybe we could get John Kerry and William Hague to negotiate it for us

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Imagine if, today, every country said "ok, as of now we're going to stop monitoring all activity on the web." Then tomorrow, a terrorist bomb goes off in London. If governments had been tracking online activity they might have intercepted communications and prevented such an event. Remember, there's 2 sides to every argument that need to be considered, it's hard to pick the lesser of 2 evils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Is his statement born of hubris or of opportunism?

    Not only is the current situation the direct and easily predictable consequence of his conscious decision to eschew security (an active topic in the 80's) in in the first place, but he surely knows that neither crooks nor Russian and Chinese privateers would pay the slightest heed to any such "charter".

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Wiill the "Bill" apply to ISPs, Search Engines and all those boobytrapping adverts and apps (from Angry Birds through Google to Yahoo) to monitor all that I do on-line and supply to ...? Will it apply to social networking operations where my "choice" (if I can find it) defaults to "open" whenever they decide to change their "rules". The NCA and GCHQ are models of good behaviour by comparison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    The internet is the last bastion of real freedom of speech left to us. We need to protect that at ALL costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    BBC- 2nd most popular LOL! The BBC lost its relevance when it caved in to the Military propaganda during the Iraq war. Now is nothing more than a gossip column, or the SUN online. Start publishing some quality editorials for a change and you might make it to the list. FYI: Google gets more hits than BBC and fB combined.


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