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.

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."
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:
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.

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.
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:
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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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Violynne (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 8:53am

    Why bother? With his proposal of DRM on the web, there's no such thing as "rights" anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    The UK would just shit all over it, anyway.

    Like they do with the actual Magna Carta.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Baldaur Regis (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:14am

    To paraphrase de Tocqueville:
    If we don't stand up for the Web we want, we'll get the Web we deserve.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    zip, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:29am

    It's interesting that he used the phrase "cold, dead fingers" - something that's become somewhat of a trademark among the 2nd-Amendment crowd. Lets hope that this proposed Internet "Bill of Rights" doesn't end up like the Second Amendment, which more and more only exists on paper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:35am


    Yeah. Any proposal for actual online rights has to begin with criminalizing the use of DRM, rather than legitimizing and protecting it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:37am


    How about "no support for DRM" as one of the rights?

    DRM prevents certain data from being displayed without the use of proprietary decoders. With DRM, you can have a fully HTML compliant browser that won't be able to display much of the content made for HTML compliant browsers. This is the opposite of what open standards should be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    justok (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:39am


    We the iPeople yadda yadda yadda

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    KoD (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:42am

    If there is one general concept I have taken from my two years of reading Tech Dirt, it is that semantics rule the political domain. The absence of or addition of a few extra words can change a statement entirely.

    Going with this concept, I really dislike the usage of "responsible anonymity." Anonymous is anonymous or it is not. If there is a way to weed out and uncover irresponsible anons, then there really is no anonymity to begin with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:48am


    Yes, I agree. "Responsible anonymity" is a terrible phrase.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Ninja (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 10:50am

    I wish he would condemn the implementation of drm on html5 too =/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 11:02am

    And you can sure bet that the MAFIAA will do everything to get their puppets that is the US government to have copyright mentioned everywhere in it with copyright extionsions and copyright enforcements and punisments of said copyrights written every other line with mentioning to their puppets that there will be no forthcoming election funding or any other funding of any sort given to the US government if they don't get these implementions written and stamped all over this new web charter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 11:24am


    Indeed. It's hard for me to reconcile his proposing a "bill of rights" with his supporting the notion of limiting our rights to control our own computers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 11:44am

    there's about as much chance of an 'online Magna Carter' as there is of Hollywood and the Entertainment industries growing a pair and joining everyone else in the digital; age, giving the service that all customers crave for!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    You're a Gazelle! (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 11:47am

    Re: Re:

    DRM is by definition not open.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 1:06pm

    Not sure this matters much...

    The US government doesn't respect the Bill of Rights it already has so why would they respect one for the Internet? And if the US government isn't going to respect it, why should any other government? Laws are only as good as the governments that respect and uphold them. Otherwise they are just words on a piece of paper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2014 @ 1:12pm


    Yeah, his support of web DRM is antithetical to what he is calling for here. It seems he can't decide which side he is on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    KoD (profile), Mar 12th, 2014 @ 1:39pm


    I wish TD had a "Sad But True" button. Unfortunately I feel like most of the stuff discussed falls into that category lately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2014 @ 4:32am

    Berners-Lee is an hypocrite.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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