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Tim Berners-Lee calls for web privacy to be enshrined in law

Internet privacy should be enshrined in a universal law, according to World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. 

Speaking to attendees of the Web We Want festival at London’s Southbank Centre, Berners-Lee said that governments and organisations were attempting to control the internet, giving the public a blinkered view and curtailing free speech. 

While the 59-year old computer scientist conceded that law enforcement would have a role in cracking down on crime, Berners-Lee has called for an Internet bill of rights that ensures people’s privacy. 

Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls for a freer, less regulated Internet
Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls for a freer, less regulated Internet

Berners-Lee said: “There have been lots of times that it has been abused, so now the Magna Carta is about saying… I want a web where I’m not spied on, where there’s no censorship.” 

Earlier this year, the UK Government rushed through the DRIP (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers) Act, which means that ISPs have to retain subscriber data until December 2016. DRIP has also seen a special envoy dispatched to gather data held on UK citizens by US-based companies including Google and Amazon. 

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Berners-Lee’s comments for greater freedom come in the wake of comments made by DCI Andy Fyfe, the head of PIPCU (Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit), City of London Police’s anti-piracy squad

In an interview with PC Pro, Fyfe called for a debate on policing the Internet and a public code of conduct. 

“At the moment, there’s almost no regulation and no policing of the Internet and that means members of the public – such as you and I – when we’re trying to use it for shopping or to do internet shopping, actually don’t have anyone looking out for our interests to make sure that the people we’re dealing with at the other end of the line are legitimate or reasonable or looking after our data properly,” Fyfe said.  

“There may well come a time when government decides it’s had enough and it’s not getting enough help from those main companies that control the way we use the internet.

“They’re not getting enough help from them, so they’re going to start imposing regulations, imposing a code of conduct about the way people may be allowed to operate on the Internet. Clearly a lot of people believe there should be no state interference at all on the Internet, but that leads to lawlessness and anarchy.” 

Berners-Lee accepts that regulation is needed to prevent illegal activity occurring. “Some things are of course just illegal, child pornography, fraud, telling someone how to rob a bank, that’s illegal before the web and it’s illegal after the web.” 

Last year Isabella Sorley and John Nimmo were charged with tweeting abusive messages to campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, who called for more women to appear on UK bank notes, 

Although they were not the only people who sent abusive messages to Criado-Perez, the couple were convicted of “sending by means of a public electronic communications network messages which were menacing in character, contrary to Section 127(1) (A) of the Communications Act 2003”.

More recently, the celebrity iCloud hack saw notorious imageboard 4chan amend its privacy policy so that it was DCMA-compliant for the first time in the site’s 9-year history. 

PIPCU, which was set up last year, has arrested 34 UK-based pirates and shut down over 3,000 sites relating to illegal file-sharing and counterfeit goods. 

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