Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who designed the language in which websites have been written and de facto made most of the Internet what it is today, has expressed a lot of concern over recent government pronouncements both in the UK and the US.
Speaking to the BBC following the announcement that he had won the Turing award for computing, he voiced two specific concerns.
Privacy is everything on the Web
First he addressed recent comments by the home secretary, who called for the ability to investigate private messaging systems. In the article to which we linked in the previous sentence we explored some of the technological reasons this was unlikely, and in a subsequent meeting between Rudd and the technology companies the subject appears not to have come up, but Berners-Lee had other objections.
Put simply, he told the BBC that if one body (say, a government) could intercept and read a private message, another may be able to hack into it and do the same. And if this second body were ill-intentioned but became more proficient at this hacking than the government, it becomes a powerful weapon.
He also spoke about allowing Internet firms to sell data on user habits in the US. Privacy online, he suggested, was as important as the confidentiality between a doctor and his or her patient.
Admittedly he gave no reason, or none that has been made public, as to why in particular the Internet has to be private. Indeed, the growth of social media could be held to suggest that a lot of younger users want it to be anything but private. However there are enough people who want this privacy to persist for it to be desirable.
We’re curiously reminded of the story of Frankenstein, who created a monster which ran out of control. A key difference is that the Internet has contributed massively to people’s well-being, through communication including remote diagnoses in Indian hospitals through to fundraising and back through to non-essential communications. The trick now will be how to keep the monstrous side under control without stifling the rest.