The World Wide Web turned 25 today and there’s a lot of chatter about the state of the Internet today, especially in the light of revelations last year about massive worldwide surveillance on nearly all online activity. To protect the freedoms that the Internet has stood for and the rights of its users, the web’s creator believes a Magna Carta-like bill of rights is the need of the hour.
Tim Berners-Lee told the Guardian in a long interview that the Internet is under attack from authorities who think they can control people if they can control the Internet. “We need a global constitution – a bill of rights,” he told the paper. “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.”
The ‘Magna Carta’ plan will be part of an initiative called The Web We Want, which explains on the website, “In the last few years, citizens around the world — from Finland to Brazil, from Mexico to the USA, from the Philippines to Russia — have rallied to stop bad laws and build a positive agenda for a Web that empowers all of us.” Those interested in joining the movement can sign up at the website, which explains in detail what needs to be done.
In another interview to the BBC, the inventor of the Web said it was built to give power to the people. “If I’d made it something which was a proprietary system then it would not have taken off. The only reason it took off is because people were prepared to invest in it because it’s open and free.”
He elaborated on this in the Guardian interview: “Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”
Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the US-based Center for Democracy & Technology, also believed that the Internet spreads the power to the people instead of concentrating in one place. “The Internet pushes power to the edges. Anybody can be a listener and anybody can be a publisher on the same network; there has never been anything like it.”
Berners-Lee believes that a freer and more open internet will foster changes in social and political structures, and make them better suited for the Internet age. He spoke about the need to re-examine some cyber-related laws from the point of view of users and not corporations, such as copyright laws, which heavily penalise users of the Internet for availing of content freely available online.
While there is no doubt that Edward Snowden’s revelations last year have thrown the spotlight on Internet and freedom, there’s not likely to be a more powerful voice than the creator of the Web to kick off a Magna Carta-like revolution. Whether it goes on to become more than just an idea, is ultimately in the hands of netizens.