THE BLOG

Why Do We Want 'The Web We Want'?

26/06/2015 17:50 BST | Updated 26/06/2016 10:59 BST

The British Library has just published its "Magna Carta for the digital age", created by asking young people to suggest clauses and getting the public to vote for their favourites online. The idea came from web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, as part of his Web We Want campaign to "defend, claim and change the future of the Web".

The story behind the original Magna Carta, now celebrating its 800th year, is familiar to many. It was created by British barons after 16 years under the rule of the infamous King John, described by contemporaries as a "tyrannous whelp". Some of the principles first expressed in the document have become constitutional cornerstones. But in many ways it was prompted by King John's ongoing unsuccessful wars in France, and the taxes he demanded to pay for them.

So what, then, has prompted the Web We Want idea? What events from the web's 26 year history have given rise to the most popular clauses in the Digital Magna Carta? I've listed some examples below (with the help of "The Story of the Web" report produced for Nominet by Jack Schofield). What have I missed? Add your views in the comments section.

"The web we want will not let companies pay to control it"

In 1989, while working at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented what would become the World Wide Web. But he didn't patent or licence the web to make money from it. Instead, he invited others to set up websites. The fact that the web was open and free is one of the main reasons it took off, and is arguably its founding principle.

"The Web we want will not sell our personal information and preferences for money"

In 2010, a discussion on MetaFilter led to a phrase that has become an internet adage: "If you're not paying for it, you're the product". The growth of the web over the past decade has been marked by a huge increase in tracking. This enables the targeted advertising that covers the cost of 'free' products. Security expert Bruce Schneier stated in 2013 that, "Surveillance is the business model of the internet. We have built systems that spy on people in exchange for services." But the continued success of this model suggests that many consumers don't mind, or feel it's worth the exchange.

"The web we want will be free from government censors in all countries"

The Arab Spring in 2011 saw digital technology used to coordinate the wave of demonstrations, protests and riots that took place across the Arab world. As one Egyptian activist tweeted, "we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world". Governments responded with censorship - peaking with the complete shutdown of the internet for periods of time in Egypt and Libya.

"The web we want will be free from mass surveillance"

In 2013, a contractor at America's National Security Agency (NSA), Edward Snowden, revealed that they and other state organisations were running massive surveillance operations. This was partly achieved by intercepting cables carrying internet traffic. The Snowden revelations caused worldwide controversy. Many people were shocked at the degree to which their privacy was being invaded, while state agencies argued their actions were necessary to protect national security interests.

This is a key time for the internet, and for the World Wide Web that offers its most popular method of navigation. We're in the midst of debates around data protection laws, online surveillance laws, net neutrality, and internet governance (to name a few). This is coupled with an ongoing boom in the number of users globally, which shows no sign of slowing. We have the opportunity to reconfirm and solidify the web's founding principles of openness, accessibility and global information sharing. A Digital Magna Carta is a good place to start.