The greatest threat to the future of the internet

Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) w3.org, the place to agree on web standards. (c) John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) w3.org, the place to agree on web standards. (c) John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Written by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, @timberners_lee

Dear friends and colleagues at Amnesty

You asked me to speak about the greatest threat to the future of the internet. You might be expecting me, as a computer scientist, to talk about techy stuff. But in my mind as the inventor of the web, it is very clear that its future depends on people – and whether ordinary people mobilise on a large scale to keep it free, open and universal. I believe we have reached a critical juncture where if we do not unite and fight for our rights to privacy, freedom of information, freedom of association, and freedom of expression in this new digital world, they will be taken away. 

The Web has become the most powerful tool to democratise knowledge, innovation and expression since the printing press. It is only a tool. It does not substitute for the need to keep fighting for social and political justice by other means, but it is an incredibly important tool, making it possible for anyone with a $50 mobile phone and a 2G connection to publish their views, spread information, organise and collaborate, instantly and anonymously, without having to ask anyone for permission or buy a license. So it is totally unsurprising that governments and some large companies want to harness and control the Web for their own benefit.   

Today, now the battle is building up. The rights of humans on the web are being attacked, and at the moment only a few in the business understand and realize what is going on. There is a groundswell movement in many countries, from Brazil and the Philippines to the US and China, and people like Privacy International and the UN Special Rapporteur Frank LaRue and his team are doing great work, but there is still nowhere near enough energy to actually change laws, culture and what the governments and corporations are allowed to do. That’s why my organisation, the World Wide Web Foundation, and others are coming together to form the Web We Want movement and why we believe that human rights defenders like Amnesty are critical to win the battle. I call on you today to join us in fighting for an open, free and universally accessible Web as a critical frontier in the larger struggle for the human rights and dignity of all.

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