The inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners Lee, has urged people to take to the streets and protest new laws he says are threatening democracy and the openness of the internet.
Berners Lee was speaking at the www2012 conference in Lyon, France, to an audience made up largely of tech industry students, researchers and programmers. He encouraged them to focus their future work on ‘web apps’ (open and internet-accessible software) rather than ‘native’ apps, which are closed and restricted purely to certain platforms like iPhones, Android phones and iPads.
And he told them “Democracy depends on an open internet. Go out in the streets and complain that your democracy is being threatened. (It’s) a duty, something you have to do.”
The British IT engineer, who developed the early web at the end of the 1980s, has warned that new proposed laws in the US and the UK could allow governments and big business too much access to personal data provided online.
Berners Lee is himself working with the UK government in an advisory role but is openly critical of “controversial plans”:http://www.euronews.com/2012/04/03/uk-internet-surveillance-plan-hits-tory-backbench-opposition/ to expand the extent to which that same government monitors individuals’ communication on social networks and other internet sites.
“I don’t see plans to have a supervisory power, an independent body to check what data the government sees,” he said.
He praised successful protests in the US that torpedoed legislation known as SOPA and PIPA that may have radically limited what content people can access online. But at the same time he issued a warning that the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, CISPA, which is designed to replace SOPA and PIPA is far from a satisfactory alternative.
Berners Lee insisted that he supported the availability of personal data in cases where it could be useful to individuals, giving as an example clothes shops that shared information on customers sizes, so that people could walk into a shop and be immediately provided with correctly-fitting clothes.
On Thursday at the www2012 conferencea panel including European Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes will discuss the internet as a human right.
But as the father of the web warns, that “human right” risks becoming something of a poisoned chalice.