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Sir Tim Berners-Lee Slams UK, US ‘Assault’ On Web Privacy

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

British web inventor pledges to combat efforts by the UK and US to weaken encryption and online privacy

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has pledged to fight UK efforts to weaken encryption.

He also raised concerns about the recent net neutrality moves in the US by the Trump administration.

It comes after Sir Tim was speaking to the BBC after he was named as recipient of the prestigious Association for Computing Machinery’s AM Turing award on Tuesday.tim berners lee © drserg / Shutterstock.com

Online Privacy

Sir Tim used the interview to make clear his concerns about recent online developments on both sides on the Atlantic.

In the UK for example in the aftermath of the Westminster attack, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said it was “completely unacceptable” that police were unable to access the encrypted WhatsApp messages of the man who killed four people in by the Houses of Parliament.

Attacker Khalid Masood, 52, is understood to have sent a message using WhatsApp two minutes before beginning the assault.

“It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide,” Rudd told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”

But Sir Tim criticised any UK plans to weaken encryption, and said that any moves to undermine encryption would be a “bad idea” and represent a massive security breach.

“Now I know that if you’re trying to catch terrorists it’s really tempting to demand to be able to break all that encryption but if you break that encryption then guess what – so could other people and guess what – they may end up getting better at it than you are,” he told the BBC.

Sir Tim also took issue with the UK’s recent Investigatory Powers Act, which he had criticised when it went through Parliament: “The idea that all ISPs should be required to spy on citizens and hold the data for six months is appalling.”

Meanwhile Sir Tim is also concerned at developments on the other side of the Altantic, where strict privacy rules adopted by the Obama administration could be overturned.

Last October the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced rules that apply to US ISPs. The new rules requires ISPs to obtain explicit consent from their customers before selling data about online behaviour to third-party marketing businesses.

How the FCC has temporarily blocked some of the rules from taking effect, and now the regulations could be overturned in their entirety after Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona introduced a resolution to undo “economically harmful broadband regulations issued by the Obama administration”.

“If the FCC does move to reduce net neutrality I will fight it as hard as I can,” Sir Tim vowed.

He said he was shocked by the direction the US Congress and Senate had taken when they voted to scrap laws preventing internet service providers from selling users’ data.

Active Campaigner

Sir Tim is known for speaking out on issues affecting the online world, and has previously warned about the erosion of web freedoms.

Last month for example he called on users to help pressure governments and corporations over issues such as ‘fake news’ and data abuse.

He has also hit out at the snooping habits of intelligence agencies such as GCHQ and the NSA, and has long championed a ‘bill of rights’ for the Internet.

Quiz: Do you understand the language of the Internet?