As Web turns 25, its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, calls for a 'Magna Carta'

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Tim Berners-Lee, credited with inventing the underpinnings of the World Wide Web, has called for a digital-age “Magna Carta”—new rules to protect Internet users from government interference.

Berners-Lee told The Guardian Tuesday that he believes the web now requires legalized protection. “We need a global constitution—a bill of rights,” he told the paper. The interview was conducted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, which hits that milestone today.

“The web’s billions of users are what have made it great,” Berners-Lee added, via a message from “I hope that many of them will join me today in celebrating this important milestone. I also hope this anniversary will spark a global conversation about our need to defend principles that have made the Web successful, and to unlock the Web’s untapped potential. I believe we can build a Web that truly is for everyone: one that is accessible to all, from any device, and one that empowers all of us to achieve our dignity, rights and potential as humans.” 

www document CERN

The opening page of Tim Berners-Lee's proposal for what would eventually become the World Wide Web.

On March 12, 1989, Berners-Lee submitted the vaguely titled “Information Management: A Proposal” to European Organization for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN. Berners-Lee proposed what he called the “Mesh,” his name for the global hypertext system that eventually became the World Wide Web.

Over time, the web has become increasingly critical to everything from commerce to basic communication. But Berners-Lee said that he’s become increasingly concerned as governments and other agencies begin mining the web for personal information.

Greeting from Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee on the Web's 25th anniversary from Web25 on Vimeo.

Berners-Lee also called for the U.S. to cede control of IANA, the database of international domain names, and to revise the role of copyright and software patents. “We also need to revisit a lot of legal structure, copyright law—the laws that put people in jail which have been largely set up to protect the movie producers,” he told the paper.

Looking forward, Berners-Lee said humankind needs to focus on three things:

  • How do we connect the nearly two-thirds of the planet that 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?

At 12 AM ET, Berners-Lee will host an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, where he will presumably offer his thoughts on these questions, as well as others.

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