Enough Spying- Time for Internet Bill of Rights

March 26, 2014 • Features, Top Stories

Widely regarded as the creator of the World Wide Web, online pioneer Tim Berners-Lee recently called for the creation of an Internet Magna Carta. The call has been spurred on by Edward Snowden’s recent NSA leaks.
According to the latest revelations, the NSA has been conducting a sophisticated long-term operation against Chinese tech company Huawei, including hacking into its networks, and spying on the companies’ top executives.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that U.S. intelligence agencies were not snooping on ordinary citizens but admitted it would take time to win back the trust of foreign governments and people after revelations of extensive U.S. surveillance.

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the sweep of the National Security Agency’s monitoring activities has triggered debate over privacy rights but also damaged relations between the US and some European governments.

Creator of the World Wide Web and online pioneer Tim Berners-Lee (WEF)

Creator of the World Wide Web and online pioneer Tim Berners-Lee (WEF)

While such a Bill of Rights for the internet does not currently exist, IT News Africa has drafted a list of eight internet rights that we believe should be sacrosanct.

  • Affordable access to a universally available communications platform
  • The protection of personal user information and the right to communicate in private
  • Freedom of expression online and offline
  • Diverse, decentralized and open infrastructure
  • Neutral networks that do not discriminate against content or users
  • Every African child should have access to the internet
  • The right to the use of encryption methods to ensure privacy
  • Right to access any website

With the World Wide Web spanning vast networks, connecting billions of people, would it even be possible to realistically draft such as Bill of Rights?

“In principal any such Bill would be feasible for any country in Africa, but in practice asking for a specific internet bill separate from the general laws of any country’s constitution is an incredibly difficult and complicated matter,” says Steven Ambrose, Managing Director of Strategy Worx.

Ambrose is of the opinion that it might not be good practice to do so, and South Africa already covers the internet in its constitution.

“Separating out the rights of the internet per se may also not be good practice in law. Many other aspects of constitutional law, particular to each country, cover its citizen’s rights, and in fact, in the case of South Africa, do apply equally to the internet,” he told IT News Africa.

But, Berners-Lee believes has a different view-

“Are we going to continue on this road and just allow governments to have more and more and more control – do more and more surveillance? Or are we going to set up something like a Magna Carta for the World Wide Web and say, actually, now it’s so important, so much part of our lives, that it becomes on a level with human rights?” he said on BBC Radio.

The Magna Carta Berners-Lee was referring to is the 1215 English charter, which was the first document forced onto a King of England in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect the rights of his subjects.

While Berners-Lee is extremely vocal about his proposal, Ambrose is not so certain the idea will gain any traction.

“The issue of net neutrality and a bill of rights for users and players within the internet ecosystem is a lofty ideal that is unlikely to succeed anywhere in the world. Communication with and between its citizens and those of other countries has always been an area of great contention throughout history, the case in point is Turkey currently banning Twitter,” he said.

If however, such a Bill were to be drafted, Steven Ambrose believes the following terms should be included:

  • The basic tenets of freedom of access
  • All data should be treated the same
  • Access should not be limited or restricted no matter the access technology
  • A regime of equality making access available to all in a society, not only the rich

What are your thoughts on a Magna Carta for the web? Let us know. Leave a comment.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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