The inventor of the world wide web has called for a global digital “bill of rights” similar to the Magna Carta to protect internet users as the medium he created prepared to mark its 25th anniversary.
Tim Berners-Lee called on the world to take a stand against surveillance on the web – and suggested that the independence of the world wide web should be treated as a human rights issue.
In an interview broadcast on BBC Breakfast, Sir Tim said people who use the web should be able to use it to communicate without being blocked or feeling that somebody is “looking over our shoulder”.
“The people of the world have to be constantly looking out for it - constantly making sure, through action, protest, that it doesn’t happen,” he said.
“Are we going to continue on the road and just allow the governments to do more and more control, more and more surveillance?
“Or are we going to 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?”
He said the web should be accessible to all and the principles that have made it successful defended.
“The web’s billions of users are what have made it great. I hope that many of them will join me in celebrating this important milestone,” he said.
“I also hope this anniversary will spark a global conversation about our need to defend principles that have made the web successful, and to unlock the web’s untapped potential.
“I believe we can build a web that truly is for everyone: one that is accessible to all, from any device, and one that empowers all of us to achieve our dignity, rights and potential as humans,” he added.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Berners-Lee said he shared concerns over the use of the web for elements such as child pornography. He said the web was “humanity connected” and showed the “wonderful” but also the “ghastly” side of humanity.
“I don’t have a lot of sympathy with people who say there is so much rubbish on the web... if it is rubbish then don’t go and read it, go and read something else,” he added.
Berners-Lee’s remarks calling for a digital bill of rights to protect internet users follow revelations about the activity of GCHQ contained in documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Anne Jellema, chief executive of Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation, said privacy is fundamental to freedom of expression and the bulk of data stored by companies without our knowledge is concerning.
Ms Jellema said there are challenges for the web ahead of its 25th anniversary, including defending the right to freedom of expression and privacy online, openness on the web and ensuring that everybody can afford to get online.
Ms Jellema said: “We’re very excited about the 25th anniversary, it’s a great moment to try to find solutions to the problems facing the next 25 years of the web without fear of consequences.
“(One of) the biggest issues is privacy and the huge amounts of data held by the big companies (who monitor) what we do and buy. Privacy is fundamental to freedom of expression and it has rightly got a lot of attention.
“The last year has been a drum roll of revelations – governments, not just the USA but the UK, German, Indian, are more and more collecting bulk data and storing data.”
She added that Berners-Lee shared her concerns over the use of data.
The chief executive also expressed concern about the “increasing centralisation of services on the internet” as well as more of the world’s data going “through a handful of companies”.
She added that they provide great services but expressed concern about the unintended consequences including security risks and the potential for what we see online to be “filtered by commercial services”.
Ms Jellema called on governments to invest more in web public access programmes and praised “positive examples” of governments which have accepted the web as part of a strong democracy citing Estonia and Costa Rica.
“About 60% are still not connected at all, (yet) access to the internet is just as important as water or electricity,” she added.
Despite the Web Foundation’s wish to see the internet reach more people, the chief executive said she was worried about the “steady rise in governments that try to restrict content”.
Ms Jellema urged the public to “take action”.
She said: “What we’re asking people to do is to take action, get involved in the debate about what is the appropriate balance, what actions (should be taken) to protect our rights online. We cannot leave it to politicians.”
The former international director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid International (AAI) invited everyone to send birthday messages via Twitter using the hashtag, #web25. Selected greetings will be put on a virtual birthday card on the official anniversary site at webat25.org.