25 years after inventing the web, Tim Berners-Lee invites users to help draft global “bill of rights”

Tim Berners-Lee, speaking at a Telefonica Campus Party event in Berlin in 2013

Tim Berners-Lee, the British scientist who effectively invented the web with a proposal 25 years ago, has used the anniversary to establish a campaign called Web We Want. He wants people to sign up to this campaign and help draft a global “Internet Users’ Bill of Rights” to cover the next 25 years.

Berners-Lee kicked off the Web We Want drive with a series of interviews, in which he argued that the web is under threat from both corporations and governments, leaving its openness and neutrality in doubt.

“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,” he told the Guardian. “It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”

On the government side, Berners-Lee is worried about surveillance in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA and GCHQ revelations, as well as the fragmentation this may cause. On the corporate side, he is concerned about the abuse of net neutrality and copyright law (which he described as “terrible”), as well as the prevalence of proprietary ecosystems such as Facebook.

The principles behind Web We Want, which is coordinated by the World Wide Web Foundation, are as follows:

  • Affordable access to a universally available communications platform
  • The protection of personal user information and the right to communicate in private
  • Freedom of expression online and offline
  • Diverse, decentralized and open infrastructure
  • Neutral networks that don’t discriminate against content or users

The Foundation is trying to support national and regional campaigns pushing these principles, and so far it already counts the likes of Global Voices and Public Knowledge as partners.

Berners-Lee will hold a Reddit AMA session to answer questions at 3 PM Eastern Time on Wednesday.

Of course, there is no global government to apply a digital “bill of rights” in a uniform way. Nonetheless, Berners-Lee and the Foundation carry a lot of weight, and these issues are increasingly on the minds of policy-makers around the world — it surely cannot hurt to have a global brainstorm, and now’s as good a time as any.

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