Web creator Tim Berners-Lee condemns Internet surveillance

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web has criticised mass Internet surveillance by GCHQ and the NSA, branding their attempts to break encryption "appalling and foolish".

The practice of encryption cracking in fact contradicts efforts of the US and UK to fight cybercrime and cyberwarfare, Berners-Lee said, adding that it is a betrayal of the tech industry.

Speaking to the Guardian, the newspaper which has published top secret documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Berners-Lee called for a "full and frank public debate" about Web spying.

"Whistleblowers, and responsible media outlets that work with them, play an important role in society. We need powerful agencies to combat criminal activity online – but any powerful agency needs checks and balances and, based on recent revelations, it seems the current system of checks and balances has failed," he said.

Berners-Lee also argued that the level of spying and encryption cracking, which he admitted being shocked by, is undemocratic and unethical. "Any democratic country has to take the high road; it has to live by its principles. I'm very sympathetic to attempts to increase security against organised crime, but you have to distinguish yourself from the criminal," he said.

The strong criticism comes as the heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 are set to face questioning by MPs in the Commons on Thursday over mass surveillance.

MPs are expected to raise questions over the conduct of the agencies, whilst the heads are expected to defend the scale of spying and condemn the NSA leaks.

Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, a significant milestone in the development of the Internet, in 1989. He is currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which oversees the Web's continued development.

He will mark the 25th anniversary of his invention next year and plans to push for a charter to codify the rights of all the Internet's users.