Tim Berners-Lee urges Britain to fight ‘snooper’s charter’
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has urged Britons to fight the government’s plans to extend the country’s surveillance powers, and act as a worldwide leader for promoting good governance on the web.
Berners-Lee said Britain had “lost the moral leadership” on privacy and surveillance, following the revelations of the former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.
Speaking before the Web We Want Festival in London’s Southbank Centre, which starts on Saturday, Berners-Lee expressed concern about the UK government’s decision to reintroduce a beefed-up version of the “snooper’s charter”.
In an unexpected move announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this week, the government is to introduce an investigatory powers bill far more wide-ranging than expected. The legislation will include not only the expected snooper’s charter, enabling the tracking of everyone’s web and social media use, but also moves to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications.
“The discussion [in the Queen’s Speech] of increased monitoring powers is something which is a red flag … this discussion is a global one, it’s a big one, it’s something that people are very engaged with, they think it’s very important, and they’re right, because it is very important for democracy, and it’s very important for business.
“So this sort of debate is something that should be allowed to happen around legislation. It’s really important that legislation is left out for a seriously long comment period,” and not simply rushed through into law.
Berner’s Lee also warned about attempts to improve internet access around the world by offering cut-down versions of the web, such as Facebook’s Internet.org project. Users should “just say no” to such proposals, he insisted.
On the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, Berners-Lee and the Web We Want festival have convened to produce a Magna Carta for the 21st century. But while the document is intended to inspire change globally, Berners-Lee bemoaned the loss of Britain’s “moral high ground”, following the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013.
“It has lost a lot of that moral high ground, when people saw that GCHQ was doing things that even the Americans weren’t,” Berners-Lee said. “So now I think, if Britain is going to establish a leadership situation, it’s going to need to say: ‘We have solid rules of privacy, which you as an individual can be assured of, and that you as a company can be assured of.’”
That way, he said, “if you want to start a company in Britain, then you can offer privacy to your users, because you’ll know that our police force won’t be demanding the contents of your discs willy-nilly, they’ll only be doing so under a very well defined and fairly extreme set of circumstances.”