Media

On Web’s 25th birthday, its inventor asks for a present – a Net Bill of Rights

Dr. Tim Berners-Lee

Above: Dr. Tim Berners-Lee

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The World Wide Web is 25 years old today. It’s time, says its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, for the Internet to have an online “global constitution – a bill of rights.”

His memo to create the WWW was filed on this day in 1989. (You can extend your birthday wishes at #web25 or through the birthday site.) His boss at Cern wrote on the memo, “Vague, but exciting.” Now, Berners-Lee and others have launched a Web We Want campaign to protect the vision.

On its Web site, the Web We Want campaign notes that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can’t be achieved “without an open, universal Web.” To battle laws that restrict the Web, the campaign is looking to draft an Internet Users Bill of Rights for citizens to propose to their governments.

“Unless we have an open, neutral Internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door,” Berners-Lee told The Guardian on Wednesday, “we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities, and diversity of culture.”

He said that a common, international document of principles could become an international standard for what the Web should be.

Berners-Lee identifies three core challenges for the grown-up Web:

• “How do we connect the nearly two-thirds of the planet who can’t yet access the Web?
• Who has the right to collect and use our personal data, for what purpose, and under what rules?
• How do we create a high-performance open architecture that will run on any device, rather than fall back into proprietary alternatives?”

The Bill of Rights effort is just beginning, and appears to be based on the same sort of decentralized effort that built the Net. Steps include a mailing list, the initiation of a “national dialogue” in each country, a challenge to create cartoons about Web surveillance, and an unspecified drafting of a Bill of Rights.

A Rapid Response program of small grants up to $2,000 is available to provide quick organizational assistance for advocacy, campaigning, and influencing.

Previous small grants have already gone to a Pakistani organization researching that government’s use of the Finfisher surveillance software, a non-governmental organization in the Ukraine evaluating that country’s Net-related laws, and an Australian non-profit that is attempting to raise public awareness about Net and phone surveillance.