On The Web's 25th Anniversary, Berners-Lee Calls For A Bill of Rights For Online Users
from the prising-the-keyboards-from-our-cold,-dead-fingers dept
Exactly 25 years ago, a British engineer working at the European nuclear research center CERN wrote a paper entitled "Information Management: A Proposal." It had a very specific purpose:
This proposal concerns the management of general information about accelerators and experiments at CERN. It discusses the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems and derives a solution based on a distributed hypertext system.
Things have moved on somewhat, and so has the author of that proposal, Tim Berners-Lee -- now Sir Tim Berners-Lee -- who has used the occasion of the Web's 25th anniversary to make a call for global action to defend users of the technology he created all those years ago:
The inventor of the world wide web believes an online "Magna Carta" is needed to protect and enshrine the independence of the medium he created and the rights of its users worldwide.
As we reported last year, Berners-Lee has been outspoken in his criticism of the US and UK governments for their unjustified and disproportionate spying activities, something he is still concerned about:
Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the Guardian the web had come under increasing attack from governments and corporate influence and that new rules were needed to protect the "open, neutral" system.
Speaking exactly 25 years after he wrote the first draft of the first proposal for what would become the world wide web, the computer scientist said: "We need a global constitution -- a bill of rights."
In the light of what has emerged, he said, people were looking for an overhaul of how the security services were managed.
So it's no surprise that at the heart of his new initiative lies an attempt to protect some of the areas that have been harmed by massive surveillance programs and online business models based on gathering and exploiting users' personal data:
Principles of privacy, free speech and responsible anonymity would be explored in the Magna Carta scheme. "These issues have crept up on us," Berners-Lee said. "Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years."
He hopes to do that as part of a broader "Web We Want" campaign:
calling on people around the world to stand up for their right to a free, open and truly global Internet. The first step: Drafting an Internet Users Bill of Rights for every country, proposing it to governments and kickstarting the change we need.
Alongside these core areas, there are some specific issues he would like to see addressed:
We also need to revisit a lot of legal structure, copyright law -- the laws that put people in jail which have been largely set up to protect the movie producers &... None of this has been set up to preserve the day to day discourse between individuals and the day to day democracy that we need to run the country," he said.
Although that last point is likely to be resisted, many will doubtlessly support the broader aims of his high-profile attempt to take the Web back to the roots planted 25 years ago:
Berners-Lee also spoke out strongly in favour of changing a key and controversial element of internet governance that would remove a small but symbolic piece of US control. The US has clung on to the Iana contract, which controls the dominant database of all domain names, but has faced increased pressure post-Snowden.
Rejecting the idea that government and commercial control of such a powerful medium was inevitable, Berners-Lee said it would be impossible: "Not until they prise the keyboards from our cold, dead fingers."
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