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Berners-Lee: Internet Can't Be Killed, Speech Can't Be Silenced

Berners-Lee: Internet Can't Be Killed, Speech Can't Be Silenced

Worldwide, suppression of free speech is growing and nowhere is that trend more evident than on the World Wide Web. The man who created the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, felt compelled to mention this trend while unveiling the newest report on how governments manage the online lives of their constituents. The bottom line, Berners-Lee said, is that there is no kill switch for Internet freedom.

By Richard Adhikari
09/06/12 5:00 AM PT

There is no off switch for the Internet, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who's widely acknowledged as the father of the Web, said in London when launching the World Wide Web Index report for 2012.

The Index assesses the use, utility and impact of the Web around the world. It looked at 61 countries.

It shows that about governments in about 30 percent of the countries restrict access to websites to some extent. Further, press freedom is under threat in about half the countries surveyed.

Free Speech Is the Whole Ball Game

Growing suppression of free speech, both online and offline, is the major challenge to the Web's future, Berners-Lee stated.

Several countries in the Middle East have repeatedly attempted to suppress free speech, both online and in the physical world, and China is noted for its control of online dialog.

The United States has also attempted to legislate an Internet kill switch, but eventually dropped the idea after strong opposition from a wide spectrum of society here, including consumer advocates and privacy groups.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who pushed for the kill switch provision to be included in the Protecting Cybersecurity as a National Asset Act," said in a TV interview that the US government should follow the lead of China in this area.

Several Western democracies that scored high on the Web Index either monitor citizens' access to the Internet or restrict it in some way. They include the UK and Australia, which scored 93.83 and 88.44 on the index, respectively. The US scored 97.31.

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

"I think that most western democracies probably do have more freedom on the Web," Spencer Belkofer, founder of Lumin Consulting told TechNewsWorld.

"Can people be put on lists, contacted by government agencies, and judged, perhaps fairly or unfairly? Absolutely," Belkofer continued. "But this is quite different from a country like China where the Internet is literally run by the state ... where millions of websites are deemed unacceptable for viewing by the government and are literally made inaccessible."

The Internet has become a less private and a more regulated environment, Belkofer said.

In some cases, this is "absolutely necessary" while in others it is "outrageous," he said. The Internet "makes the age-old dilemma of finding the balance between individual freedoms and public interests even more difficult."

That's because access to knowledge, which is provided by the Internet, is "remarkably powerful," Belkofer said. "Add the ability to share that knowledge with millions of people and you have a complete breakdown of traditional power structures."

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