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Web inventor: Surveillance threatens democracy

Fri, 11/22/2013 - 8:24am

The scientist credited with inventing the World Wide Web says a growing tide of surveillance is threatening democracy's future.

Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the Web in 1990, has been a vocal critic of Internet surveillance. He said Friday that as more people use the Internet and social media to "expose wrongdoing," some governments are feeling threatened.

He said the result is a "growing tide of surveillance and censorship" that threatens the future of democracy, warning that "bold steps" must be taken to protect privacy rights and the freedom of opinion online.

His remarks came ahead of the launch in London of a report ranking which countries best use the Web. Sweden was ranked first, followed by Norway, the U.K. and the United States.

Coverage at BBC News

Coverage at The Guardian

Blog post from Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation:

Scandinavian countries top annual Web Index rankings, USA and UK criticised for inadequate privacy protections

Dillon Mann: Today, we’re launching the second edition of the Web Index – the world’s first multi-dimensional measure of the World Wide Web’s contribution to development and human rights globally.

Sweden tops the table for the second year running, with Norway in second. The UK and US come third and fourth respectively, but both come in for criticism for surveillance practices. New Zealand rounds out the top five.

The 2013 Index also reports that:

  • Targeted censorship of Web content by governments is widespread across the globe. Moderate to extensive blocking or filtering of politically sensitive content was reported in over 30% of Web Index countries during the past year.

  • Legal limits on government snooping online urgently need review. 94% of countries in the Web Index do not meet best practice standards for checks and balances on government interception of electronic communications.

  • The Web and social media are leading to real-world change.  In 80% of the countries studied, the Web and social media had played a role in public mobilisation in the past year, and in half of these cases, had been a major catalyst.

  • Rich countries do not necessarily rank highly in the Web Index. The Philippines, with a per capita income of $4,410 per year, is more than 10 places ahead of Qatar, the world’s richest country, with an average income over 20 times greater than the Philippines. Saudi Arabia is outperformed by 10 of the sub-Saharan African countries in the Index. Switzerland, the world’s third wealthiest nation, is only one place ahead of Estonia. The study shows that once countries surpass a GDP threshold of US$12,000 per capita, the link between wealth and Web Index rank weakens significantly.

  • The rights and priorities of women are poorly served by the Web in the majority of countries researched.  Locally relevant information on topics such as sexual and reproductive health, domestic violence, and inheritance remain largely absent from the Web in most countries. Only 56 percent of Web Index countries were assessed as allocating ‘significant’ resources to ICT training programmes targeting women and men equally.

Full report: Web Index, World Wide Web Foundation

Sources: Associated Press, World Wide Web Foundation

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