Web founder says government surveillance threatens democracy

Inventor of the worldwide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said that the "growing tide of surveillance and censorship" is threatening global democracy.

Speaking at the launch of the World Wide Web Foundation's annual web index report, Berners-Lee warned that more must be done to protect internet user's privacy in order to preserve the democratic nature of the net.

According to the index, which lists countries in order of internet freedoms, almost one third of nations do not adequately monitor government internet surveillance.

Since the inaugural index last year, the US has fallen from second place to fourth, while the UK has remained in third place, below Sweden and Norway.

The UK scored the highest of the 81 countries classified for availability of relevant content, however it was let down by a poor score for freedom and openness.

"One of the most encouraging findings of this year's Web Index is how the web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organise, take action and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world," said Berners-Lee.

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

"Bold steps are needed now to protect our fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and association online."

The accompanying report concludes that the rise of censorship and surveillance poses a "severe threat" to the Web's future, asserting that it is imperative that this is reversed by governments, civil society organisations and companies.

"Concerted action is urgently needed to increase internet access, affordability and digital capacities; to provide adequate access to critical information; and to protect privacy and freedom of opinion online," the report states.

"Without these steps, the Web and social media may largely amplify the voices and harden the interests of those who already have control over knowledge and access to influence."