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Tim Berners-Lee calls for protection of basic rights online

Warwick Ashford

Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee (pictured) has re-iterated warnings that the democratic nature of the internet is under threat from increased surveillance and censorship.

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, Berners-Lee has been a strong critic of internet surveillance by UK and US intelligence agencies, describing the decision to crack encryption methods as “appalling and foolish”.

Berners-Lee has also been among the strongest opponents to proposed legislation in the UK and US aimed at censoring content and giving authorities the right to monitor electronic communications.

His latest warning came at the launch of the second edition of the World Wide Web Foundation’s annual web index report that tracks global censorship.

The report measures the World Wide Web’s contribution to development and human rights, but the latest edition says monitoring of government internet interception is inadequate in 94% of countries.

The report highlights the fact that 30% of countries block or filter political content and concludes that the current legal framework on government surveillance needs urgent review.

Berners-Lee said one of the most encouraging findings of the latest report is how the web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organise and take action to expose wrongdoing.

"But some governments are threatened by this, and a growing tide of surveillance and censorship now threatens the future of democracy,” he said.

Berners-Lee called for bold steps to be taken to protect fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and association online, according to the BBC.

According to the latest index report, which ranks countries in terms of social and political impact of the web, Sweden tops the table for the second year running, followed by the UK, US and New Zealand.

Despite the high ranking of the UK and US, both countries come in for criticism for surveillance practices.

However, the report shows that targeted censorship of web content by governments is widespread across the globe.

Moderate to extensive blocking or filtering of politically sensitive content was reported in over 30% of the countries indexed in the past year.

Legal limits on government snooping online urgently need review, the report said, with most countries failing to meet best practice standards for checks and balances on government interception of electronic communications.

However, the report said the web and social media are leading to real-world change.  The report said that in 80% of the countries studied, the web and social media had played a role in public mobilisation in the past year, and in half of these cases, had been a major catalyst.

However, the report said the rights and priorities of women are poorly served by the web in the majority of countries researched. 

Locally relevant information on topics such as sexual and reproductive health, domestic violence, and inheritance remain largely absent from the web in most countries, and only 56% of countries were assessed as allocating ‘significant’ resources to ICT training for women and men equally.