March 12, 2014 marked the 25th “birthday” of the Internet, at least in the eyes of many tech geeks.
How is the inventor/father of the Internet celebrating? By claiming that the Web is in need of a “Magna Carta” or bill of rights in order to protect users from the government.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the BBC that human rights and Internet rights have a lot in common, and compared his “baby” to the most important things in life, just as any father would. Berners-Lee has been a strong critic of Big Brother for years, but his interest was piqued even more after fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed just how easy it is to leak sensitive information.
Berners-Lee is calling for fast action against surveillance, but he’s fully aware that it was largely his own creation that has eased the way to vast government surveillance. Right now he says we’re “at a crossroads,” and “it’s time for us to make a big communal decision. 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?”
A knight’s tale
The knighted tech genius is asking the world: “Are we going to set up a bunch of values?” He’s convinced that the World Wide Web and the right of access to and privacy on it are on a par with human rights, and a number of people agree.
Try to imagine a day without the Internet, and it’s easy to see how the entire developed world could come crashing to a halt. Thousands if not millions of jobs would be lost, from government workers to monetized bloggers who make their living writing online about anything from diets to proper steroid usage and health.
According to Berners-Lee, he intended the Internet to be a neutral tool that was helpful to all, not a means for governments to peep over everyone’s shoulder. He’s calling for strong anti-surveillance measures, saying, “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.”
It’s clear that he knows this type of surveillance can destroy what was meant to be a democratic web.
Berners-Lee’s take on Snowden
The Snowden case has had plenty of supporters and critics blasting the blogosphere, but it should be no surprise that Berners-Lee sides with Snowden, saying the man was acting in the public’s best interest. However, Berners-Lee is the first to admit that he had no idea what he was starting 25 years ago.
It’s “crazy,” he says, that the Web has grown into such a ubiquitous beast, with almost every single person in every developed country using it heavily, day after day. On the other hand, he’s also saddened that what he imagined would improve human connectivity has at times resulted in both “wonderful” and “ghastly” activities.
“I don’t have a lot of sympathy with people who say ‘There’s so much rubbish on the web.’ ” His advice? “Don’t read it; go read something else.”
He’s established a campaign dubbed The Web We Want as part of Sir Tim’s World Wide Web Foundation, appropriately timed to coincide with the Internet’s 25thbirthday. Isn’t it time that ol’ WWW became a legal adult, complete with its own Bill of Rights?
Or has Tim Berners-Lee, like Dr. Frankenstein, become relatively powerless in the face of his own creation, which is now in the hands of millions of other people?