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World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee concerned about the lack of freedom and equality on the Internet

The web is becoming an environment which is more unequal and has less freedom with increasing levels of surveillance, according to the 2014-15 Web Index from the Web Foundation – and Sir Tim Berners-Lee has added his weight behind the report’s findings.

The research looked at key issues pertaining to the web including equality, privacy and censorship – and net neutrality for the first time – in a global study which spanned 86 countries.

It found that almost 60 per cent of the population of the world, 4.3 billion folks, can’t get online, and over half of those who can get online live in a nation which “severely” restricts their rights when browsing the web. In other words, only one in five can access the web at all, or without large degrees of censorship imposed by authorities. A rather bleak picture…

Almost all countries, 84 per cent of them, have “weak or non-existent laws” when it comes to making sure their citizens aren’t subject to mass surveillance on the web, which is up strongly from 63 per cent last year.

As for censorship, 38 per cent of countries are censoring political or socially sensitive material to “moderate” or “extensive” degrees now, which is up from 32 per cent last year. Just one in four nations actually enforces clear rules to ensure net neutrality is maintained.

As for individual countries, those who were wealthy and had strong laws to protect civil liberties, and low levels of inequality, are benefiting the most economically and socially from the web, which the report notes may “further entrench global inequality and undermine the free and open web”.

“This trend can and must reversed,” observed Anne Jellema, CEO of the Web Foundation and lead author of the report.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee added his opinion that the web could be a great equaliser across the globe, but only “if we hardwire the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, affordable access and net neutrality into the rules of the game.”

The Web Foundation has called for a number of corrective measures to level the web playing field, such as the speeding up of the development of universal access, investment in quality public education, and protecting freedom by using the web to increase government transparency, levels of privacy, and freedom of speech.