Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, defended whistleblowers and the openness of the web in his opening address at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit today.
Speaking via live satellite link, he said: “In the US and the UK the systems of accountability have failed, only one group protects us from abuse and that is whistleblowers. Whistleblowers need special protection even if they have violated laws. We can’t trust that any system won’t go astray, however much good will, so we have to rely on the whistleblower.”
He said there was “a hard question to answer” about “police power vs human rights”, and that police forces with “strong powers of any sort” must be held accountable and responsible to the public.
His words come in the wake of continued analysis of classified US documents leaked by Edward Snowden, who shared details of wide-spread surveillance orchestrated by America’s NSA. Currently given asylum in Russia, Snowden’s actions have renewed discussion about both the morality of blanket surveillance programmes and the treatment of whistleblowers.
Snowden released details of several surveillance projects, including some that involve monitoring Internet traffic passing through the US and the UK.
The United States recently responded to additional reports of large-scale phone tapping in France by insisting it “gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations”.
Speaking more directly about the Snowden revelations, Berners-Lee added that “the web as an infrastructure has to be open and be a neutral platform as we have to know that when we are using the web no-one is looking over our shoulder”. He said that the openness of the web was important so that “everyone can participate in a national and international discourse”.
The Abu Dhabi Media Summit runs between 22 and 24 October.