World wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has condemned western governments for their use of sweeping Internet surveillance, arguing that the authorities are compromising a tool that is “important in people’s survival.”
Berners-Lee’s frank remarks come as the Prism inquest continues to rumble on, with both the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) receiving widespread criticism as their data handling policies come to light.
A fierce advocate for user privacy and an open Internet, Berners-Lee has frequently taken governing bodies to task over online ‘snooping’, and yesterday accused the west of hypocrisy in comments made to The Times.
“In the Middle East, people have been given access to the internet but they have been snooped on and then they have been jailed,” he said. "Obviously, it can be easy for people in the West to say, 'oh, those nasty governments should not be allowed access to spy'. But it's clear that developed nations are seriously spying on the Internet."
Berners-Lee said the assurance of anonymity and privacy was vital to the well-being of the online community, who may now be reluctant to share information in the wake of Prism and subsequent revelations.
“Information on the web can be really important in peoples' survival. Teenagers who are unsure about their sexuality who need to contact others, or people being abused trying to find helplines ... there are things that happen on the net that are very intimate, which people are going to be loathe to do if they feel there's somebody looking over their shoulder," he added.
In addition to his concerns about the personal impact of privacy infringement, Berners-Lee has also spoken of the damage such policies can cause to wider political and social pillars. When the Prism scandal broke earlier this month, the web founder described it as “an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society.”
We recently took a step back from the Prism saga to assess its place in the context of Internet surveillance as a whole.