Web Turns 25 and Creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee Calls for Online 'Magna Carta'

By Peter Bernstein March 12, 2014

It is hard to believe that it was exactly 25 years today that Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first draft of the first proposal for what would become the World Wide Web (www). The web has become so much a necessity of our personal and professional lives it is almost hard to imagine how we managed without it.

Today is certainly a day of celebration. In fact, if you would like to send along birthday wishes by all means do so using #web25. In addition, select greetings will be posted on the official anniversary site webat25.org.

 Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Celebration may be the order of the day, but it must be noted that many, including the father of the web himself, are using the occasion to highlight the fact that the Internet has significant issues regarding its openness and lack of privacy that need to be addressed if it is going to continue to be the invaluable place it has become. 

A call to action

Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web Foundation, and the World Wide Web Consortium are asking people to take action to protect and enhance the open Web in 2014. For those interested, W3C will convene experts at a symposium on the future of the Web in October (w3.org/20), and the Web Foundation is spearheading the Web We Want movement, a global campaign to ensure the legal protection of Web users' rights in every country.

As the Web Foundation points out there are difficult challenges ahead:

  • How do we connect the three in five people around the world who are not online?
  • What fresh, inclusive solutions can avoid a fragmented Web?
  • Our ability to have a say and organize collectively online is under threat from censorship and surveillance, whilst anyone online is threatened by cybercrime. How can we meet needs for online freedom, privacy, and security?
  • Globally, fewer than 10 percent of key government datasets are free to re-use online, drastically limiting Web-powered innovation. How do we unlock the power of open data?
  • The Open Web Platform must be capable of expanding to meet industry demands across many connected devices. How do we tackle the challenges raised by such diversity?
  • How do we promote a rich ecosystem of innovation for the long-term, rather than less fertile walled gardens?

For his part, Sir Tim did a video with The Guardian that is worth a full listen.

As you can hear and see in the video, Sir Tim believes an online "Magna Carta" is needed. "We need a global constitution – a bill of rights," he stated to protect the "open, neutral" system.

His call to action has been taken up by the "the web we want" initiative, which as the Guardian notes is asking people around the world to generate a digital bill of rights in each country that can gain the support of government officials and corporations.

He further explains that, "Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what's happening at the back door, we can't have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It's not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it…Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years."

In what might be a whimsical and optimistic view, Berners-Lee expressed his view that the "web we want" campaign can be mainstream, despite what he admits is the apparent lack of awareness of public interest in all of the fallout from the continuing revelations coming from NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

One can only hope that the power of social media unleashed by the Web and its global pervasiveness can be the vehicle for establishing the changes Berners-Lee believes are necessary for protecting it and us as the invaluable resource it is and preserve it as a platform for innovation and social change.

Best wishes

In the meantime, you might wish to sing along with Beyonce and wish the Web a heart-felt Happy Birthday. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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