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Whistleblowers 'must get special protection'

Abu Dhabi, October 23, 2013

There must be a system to give special protection to whistleblowers even if they have violated laws, said a computer expert in his opening address via live satellite link to delegates at a key media summit in Abu Dhabi.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of World Wide Web Consortium, gave an impassioned plea for the openness of the web, a defense of whistleblowers and the importance of the internet to developing countries.

Speaking to the Abu Dhabi Media Summit delegates on Tuesday, Sir Tim Berners-Lee said: “In the US and the UK the systems of accountability have failed, only one group protects us from abuse and that is whistleblowers. We can’t trust that any system won’t go astray, however much good will, so we have to rely on the whistleblower.”

In a session hosted by Matthew Garrahan, Los Angeles correspondent of the Financial Times, the WWW inventor addressed the highly topical issue of online privacy and cybercrime.

Berners-Lee said it was “a hard question to answer as it balanced so many important values against each other – police power vs human rights.”

“Whenever you have a police force that has strong powers of any sort, you need to have an agency to hold them accountable. The question is who will guard the guards. They must be responsible to the public, to be able to assure people that our human rights are not being violated behind our backs,” he stated.

In the wake of WikiLeaks and the recent case of Edward Snowden’s release of classified US information, he defended the rights of whistleblowers to disseminate sensitive information without consent in a responsible way.

Talking about the need for an open internet, Berners-Lee added: “The web as an infrastructure has to be open and be a neutral platform as we have to know that when we are using the web no-one is looking over our shoulder. We have to be able to use the web with impunity. It has to be open so everyone can participate in a national and international discourse.”

Berners-Lee said the thing that had given him the most pleasure about the evolution of the web over the last 23 years was innovation.

“The web is a very general platform and it’s incredible how its been used, the amount of creativity and things done with the we, I’ve never imagined. The spirit of international collaboration – done by people in their spare time collaborating, sharing an idea, feeling it would be cool to do so, that spirit has been really amazing,” he stated.

Garrahan asked about Berners-Lee’s new venture, the Alliance for Affordable Internet, a cross-industry coalition to bring cheaper internet to the developing world and asked what happens in the case of a digital divide.

“Only a third of humanity is connected to the web, so there is a massive digital divide between people who are connected and those who are not connected,” he said. “For those who are connected it’s important that the internet is open and it is a fair and just internet. For those who are not connected its important to help them get online as quickly as possible.”

Berners-Lee went on to say that the web had a key role in developing countries, particularly in delivering healthcare and commerce.

"When you get connectivity to the web it puts you in a different class of people. It also allows you to connect with others which is very important," he pointed out.

"If you are online in a village in rural Africa you can deliver healthcare messages about an epidemic, how to deal with crop disease – the internet infrastructure means you can pass information along very quickly," he added.

Now in its fourth year, the Abu Dhabi Media Summit is one of the world's most important gathering of the leaders and companies driving the transition to a fully digital future - with a special emphasis on the digital frontiers of the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, East Asia & China.-TradeArabia News Service




Tags: abu dhabi | web | Protection | Whistleblower |

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