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No one should control Web: Berners-Lee

The creator of the World Wide Web warned not to hand over power of his invention to the government.

Speaking last night at a lecture hosted by Sydney's University of Technology, Tim Berners-Lee said the Internet should remain independent in the same way as journalism.

"If you're going to give the government the ability to spy on people and the ability to block" websites they don't like, "you've got to have a lot of trust in that government," Berners-Lee said.

"That's not something I recommend."

Instead, the Web inventor advocated a free and open Internet. The Internet "should be a white piece of paper," Berners-Lee said last night. "It should allow you to do anything you want on it. And it should not having anybody ... controlling it."

When Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, shut down the Internet in his country to stop revolutionaries from mobilising using social media, people around the world wondered whether their governments possessed the same power, Berners-Lee said.

"How much power are we going to give our government to block different sites?" he said.

The same question applies to governments spying on their own people, Berners-Lee said. "Some countries ... let you go to any website you like. It's just if you go to the wrong one, then they will watch you, they will hack your accounts, they will find out who your friends are, and not only will you go to friends but all your friend will go to jail, too."

Berners-Lee recently called Australia's proposed data retention laws a "really, really bad idea."

The cyber terrorists who governments want to chase will find ways to prevent attacks from being traced back to them, Berners-Lee said. But governments will capture large amounts of data about "well-meaning citizens" in their wide net searches for the criminals, he said.

That data could be used to blackmail or take over a citizen's identity, Berners-Lee said. Even if the government does not intend to use it that way, it may be dangerous to hold onto the information because it could be hacked and used by "those very serious organised criminals" who the government was "originally worrying about," he said.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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