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 451.

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

    Cobblers (shoe repairers), I say what I want when & where I want, I live in UK, what country do you live in.

    The WWW is like an electronic cesspit.

    I dont remember NSA sending messages to people telling them to die & comit suicide etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    @aphoristic #414

    > We need new encryption software, designed by hackers, geeks etc

    Yeah, like the people who developed BitCoin because hackers, bedroom coders and open-source software is always secure and bug-free.

    Unbreakable encryption s/w already exists, it isn't used more due to legislation - the US government stops people using things it can't break - not cos the tech isn't available

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    I wonder what would happen if there was a solar storm which put an end to internet, www, computer technology, et al. Just stop and think about how much 'you' rely on something 'out of your control'. Most of you can't walk down the street unless connected to something. You look sad and lost in your surroundings. No twitter, facebook, skipe...what would you do!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    For those who claim to have nothing to hide, that do nothing wrong.


    Ever ticked the 'I have read the terms and conditions' box?

    It is fraudulent to make a contractural statement which is not true. Who here always reads the Ts&Cs before agreement?

    I certainly don't.

  • Comment number 447.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    427. Mr E Dissident
    I think the pertinent part of what you said was willingly. When you sign up for something or post in a forum you are doing so tacitly. You will understand that the organisation may use your data in a way they feel acceptable, but ultimately profitably, often selling your details for advertising. But the organisation these governments use will use your info how, they own it

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    Funny...right now I happen to be wearing a t-shirt that says:

    "The NSA: The Only Government Agency That Actually Listens"

    The problem is they care a little TOO much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 444.

    All this talk of preventing 'terrorists' - you have been well and truly brainwashed by your government and it's puppet 'the media'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    @432 Riggadon "Defeatist attitude, defeatist logic........"
    Some of us would call it 'realistic'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    You can face jail saying something on twitter that somebody else is offended by but if you beat sombody up chances are you'll get off. Something is slightly wrong in our perseption of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    5 Hours ago

    I have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide,


    And yet you still feel the need to have curtains at your windows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    The internet is the window to true Humanity, everybody can be who they want to be and do what they want to do (Within reason obviously) without anybody judging them.

    People can meet and talk to people like them around the world, it brings us closer together. The internet has both a good and bad side to it which is the true mirror to human nature.

    The bonus? We are all equal online.

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    Tim Berners-Lee is a nice man with immense imagination and creativity.

    I expect he is quite frustrated and disgusted at the way his good idea has been perverted by all the grasping, greedy control freaks of this world. He hasn't taken a penny from his invention but millions of others have all been too ready to help themselves.

    This is a sorry tale of our sordid times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    @418. Aquiles


  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    Tim Berners-Lee is great man, and the Internet is a bastion of real freedom, yet people choose to abuse this; sexist, racist, homophobic abuse. Bullying, slander, child abuse etc. The list goes on. I have more to worry about form fellow man than the government on the Internet, I feel. He see's from an idealistic perspective .

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    What are they afraid of? It's us, isn't it? You, me, my Mum and the kids over the road, your neighbours and well, everyone. So who are 'they' and why aren't they 'us'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    Imagine Republics entirely in Cyberspace in which everyone is there own Representative"

    Vote on tax cuts: overwhelming YES
    Vote on service cuts: overwhelming NO

    "Imagine the overthrow of the politician class and their incessant deal making"

    That's why we have a "political class" to resolve the irreconcilable of us all wanting our cake and eat it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    Human rights are good and I subscribe to that theory. However, the web community has a sizeable element of dubious activity by normally law abiding people e.g. video/music and software piracy, ability to abuse people on forums anonymously etc. A lot of the ranting about 'end of free speech/freedom' was the same stuff spewed when Pirate Bay got shut down. We reap what we sow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    I agree with the sentiment of a "web magna carta" although I'm pragmatic enough to realise that it cannot and will not ever happen.

    more importantly than this, as time goes on and more and more people opt for open-source software that isn't riddled with back doors and vulnerabilities, and crucially as encryption technology becomes ubiquitous and more usable, we wont need a web magna carta. :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    Eat the Path
    6 Hours ago

    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.

    Defeatist attitude, defeatist logic. It has no place in the country I want to live in. If you dont try you dont get. Lie down and die elsewhere.


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