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Web Inventor: Internet Access Should Be 'Basic Human Right'

  • Reuters

World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee speaks during a news conference in London, Dec. 11, 2014.

World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee speaks during a news conference in London, Dec. 11, 2014.

The inventor of the Worldwide Web said on Thursday access to the internet should be regarded as a basic human right and criticized growing censorship by governments and commercial manipulation.

He also said allegations by Russian President Vladimir Putin - that the Internet was a project created by U.S. spies in the Central Intelligence Agency - are incorrect.

Tim Berners-Lee, who launched the Web in 1990, made the remarks as he released his World Wide Web Foundation's latest report tracking the Internet's global impact. He invented the Web in 1989 - the year that the Berlin Wall collapsed.

Advocates free usage

Berners-Lee said about 38 percent of states denied free internet use to citizens.

"It's time to recognize the Internet as a basic human right," he said in a statement. "That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring Internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of Web users regardless of where they live."

The report said laws preventing bulk mass surveillance were weak or non-existent in more than 84 percent of countries, up from 63 percent in 2013. It also said moderate or extensive censorship was seen in 38 percent of countries, up from 32 percent in 2013.

The countries that scored lowest in allowing people to benefit from the Internet were Yemen, Myanmar and Ethiopia.

While Denmark, Finland and Norway topped the rankings, which score access, freedom and openness, relevant content and social, economic and political empowerment.

Also ranked on the list, Britain came fourth, the United States was sixth, while Russia was ranked at 35 and China, 44.

Surveillance

Media reports based on previously top secret documents stolen by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, a U.S. citizen now living in Moscow, laid bare the extent of U.S. and British surveillance, including demands spies made to telephone and technology companies.

Berners-Lee has previously scolded the U.S. and Britain for undermining the Internet's foundations with their surveillance programs. He has also called on China to tear down the “great firewall” that limits its people's access to the Internet.

Meanwhile, Putin, a former KGB spy who does not use email, has said he will not restrict Internet access for Russians, but in April he stoked concerns that the Kremlin might seek to crackdown by saying the Internet was born out of a “CIA project”.

“The Internet is not a CIA creation,” Berners-Lee, a London-born computer scientist, told Reuters when asked about the comment.

He said the Internet was invented with the help of U.S. state funding, but it was spread by academics. “It was the academic community who wired up their universities so it was put together by smart, well-meaning people who thought it was a good idea,” he said.

Condition of mankind

In reference to the use of the Internet to spread militant Islamist propaganda, such as films showing the beheading of Western journalists in Syria, Berners-Lee said the Internet's use reflected the condition of mankind.

“Like all powerful tools, it can be used for good and evil, it can be used by good people and bad people,” he said.

“When you look at the Web you see humanity connected. Humanity has got some wonderful parts and some gruesome parts. You can't design an Internet that will suddenly turn everybody into saints. What you can do is design an Internet that is open," Berners-Lee said.

Some material for this report came from AP.

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