As part of The Economist's "World in 2016" year-end series looking ahead to how the world will change and evolve in the coming year, Network member Sir Tim Berners-Lee penned a piece on "The Wider World Web." In the article, Sir Tim explores the growing potential and interest in small data – a core interest of the Research Network – the increasing appetite for greater individual-level control of personal online data, and the opposing forces of reactionary cybercrime legislation and efforts to enshrine Web users with a Bill of Rights or Internet Magna Carta.
Sir Tim argues:
"A raft of poorly conceived “cybercrime” laws are emerging, authorising everything from politically motivated censorship to indiscriminate surveillance, while at the same time leaving engineers with good intentions and a little curiosity open to overly harsh punishment. Also of concern are efforts in America and elsewhere to make companies 'voluntarily' share user information with security agencies, without a legal process.
However, forward-thinking governments are developing national internet Bills of Rights based upon broad public participation, which entrench human rights and safeguard space for innovation, while recognising the legitimate needs of companies to make profits and of governments to fight crime.
Brazil pioneered this approach in 2014; Italy followed suit in 2015. Similar processes are under way in Nigeria, Jordan, Guatemala and through the African Union. In 2016 more of these Bills of Rights will become law. At the global level, efforts to agree on core principles for the digital age in a new Magna Carta for the internet will intensify.
To resolve the hard questions ahead and ensure that the vast amounts of data we create become tools for personal empowerment and economic innovation, we need policies made in the open, with informed debate. The web’s true potential for democracy, economic growth and human creativity is only just beginning to be glimpsed. In 2016 all of us must protect and enhance this public space for the benefit of all humankind."