Happy birthday Internet, Web founder Berners-Lee now calls for ‘Magna Carta’ to protect internet users

The inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, called for a charter similar to the ‘Magna Carta’ to protect freedom of speech on the Internet and users’ rights after leaks about government surveillance of online activity. Web privacy and freedom have come under scrutiny since former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden last year leaked a raft of secret documents revealing a vast U.S. government system for monitoring phone and Internet data.

How the Government Tracks You: NSA Surveillance from Center For Rights on Vimeo.

Accusations that NSA was mining personal data of users of Google, Facebook, Skype and other U.S. companies prompted President Barack Obama to announce reforms in January to scale back the NSA programme and ban eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies of the United States. So it is clear that this sinister activity is happening right now and our personal accounts, emails, messages and articles we post on the Internet is being looked through without our permission!

“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?” he told BBC Radio.

“Or 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, referring to the 1215 English charter.

Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said he has called President Barack Obama to “express frustration” over US digital surveillance. The 29-year-old said in a blog post the US government “should be the champion for the internet, not a threat”.

His comments come a day after a report the US National Security Agency (NSA) imitated a Facebook server to infect surveillance targets’ computers.

Mr Zuckerberg said in September that the US “blew it” on internet spying.

Broken trust?

“When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he said in his blog post.

While acknowledging the state needed the power to tackle criminals using the Internet, Berners-Lee has called for greater oversight over spy agencies such Britain’s GCHQ and the NSA, and over any organizations collecting data on private individuals.

Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium, a global community with a mission to lead the web to its full potential, have launched a year of action for a campaign called the Web We Want, urging people to push for an Internet “bill of rights” for every country.

“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,” concluded Berners-Lee.

Sir Tim invented the world wide web while working at a research facility in Europe in 1989. He is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, a body which oversees the web’s continued development and holds a senior research position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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 us all.