Tim Berners Lee on web privacy

Last week this Kat unfortunately learnt that the combination of English rainy weather, wet railway station floors and someone else running the other way in an almighty hurry cannot end well.  Although she has badly sprained her hind paw and is spending time in her Kat Basket whilst the Technicolor swelling goes down, she has finally had the opportunity to listen to the Guardian interviews with Tim Berners-Lee (no relation) as part of its Battle for the Internet series.

TBL told his audience that the thing which keeps him 'up most at night at the moment' is the legislative proposals being put forward by governments to 'try to give them too much control over and spying on the internet'. He explains: 'The amount of control you have over somebody if you can monitor their internet activity is amazing'. This because you get to know 'more intimate details of their life' than any person whom they talk to as they 'confide in the internet' when they click their way through different websites.

 TBL provides the following as examples: someone 'finding their way through the medical websites to find out about cancer or what a lump could be, or an adolescent finding their way through a website about homosexuality when they are wondering what they are and talk to people about it'. Accordingly, for TBL, 'sometimes the internet gets this view of somebody’s life which is incredibly intimate and therefore its abuse is potentially incredibly powerful'. One this basis, the idea that governments 'should routinely record information about people is obviously very dangerous' because such information can be stolen or acquired by corrupt officials which could be used to blackmail others. In TBL's opinion 'if the government feels that it is really necessary to acquire any information about individuals then ... there should be a very strong independent body which has complete oversight and can check for each situation where the government has decided to spy on people'.

It is not surprising then that TBL was critical of the proposed Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the United States. He said that contrary to the above warning, this proposed law is 'threatening with rights of people in America and effectively rights everywhere because what happens in America seems to affect people all over the world'. For TBL, after the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) were 'stopped by huge public outcry', it was 'staggering how quickly the US government has come back with a new different threat to the rights of its citizens' in the form of CISPA. Accordingly, TBL felt that 'the most important thing to do stop the bill as it is at the moment'.

The IPKat thinks the whole thing is quite funny: anyone tracking him as he clicks his way around the internet over the years would have built up a profile of a brand-conscious beer-drinking chocolate eater with a passion for patents and polar bear cubs and a love of legal conferences and seminars-- but probably wouldn't know that he was a fictional cat.

Merpel notes that similar legislation was rumoured to be proposed in England and asks: what do you think?
Tim Berners Lee on web privacy Tim Berners Lee on web privacy Reviewed by Catherine Lee on Monday, April 30, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. What mystifies me is why a government elected by us that collects private data or watches us is bad, but an undemocratic private company doing the same - usually far more intrusively - doesn't get people anywhere near as exercised. Just wait till China owns Google.

  2. Since when was there a statutory requirement that you had to use Google? You are free to use it or not use it, register with it or not, and see the information that it has gathered.

    Meanwhile, if Merpel's so sanguine, let him pop his full browsing history for the last couple of years up on the site and we'll see what we can divine.

  3. Stop Online Piracy - those three words make a beautiful oxymoron as we all know...but I for one are tired of this never ending attack on citizens, just so no one needs to address the real issues of archaic business models that live in la la land - "saying we're all about instantaneous gratification" ...but their words...well it's all mouth and no trousers.
    They want 'protection' 'control' and resulting income from active 'exploitation' of IP - but fail to see the opportune business model of harnessing this out of control, over our heads technology - using technology. Digital fingerprints - classic example.

    It is funny IPKat - but if you are going to click your way around etc as mentioned - the filter bubble based on those activities has quite a high percentage of restricting you to access any online information that is outside the filter bubble created ... a fictional cat, with book and glasses in toe.


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