World wide web creator Tim Berners-Lee has called on internet whistleblowers to be given special protection even if they break the law, in the wake of the Edward Snowden and Wikileaks scandals.
Speaking at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit via videolink from New York, Berners-Lee said that whistleblowers played a vital role in exposing wrongdoing when existing levels of accountability proved to be “not good enough”.
Berners-Lee said Snowden’s leak about transatlantic government surveillance last month raised difficult questions.
“It balances so many important values against each other” he 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 the systems we have put together, even if they are done with goodwill. They go astray so we must rely on the whistleblower at the end of day.”
Berners-Lee added that Snowden had tried other avenues to raise his concerns, had human interest at heart, and had worked closely with the press, “to release the information with the minimum harm and for the maximum good.”
“Even if you have clearly violated laws, society says you need special protection,” he said.
Berners Lee also called for a balance to be struck between an individual’s right to privacy and the ability of the police to investigate criminality.
“When you have a police force with strong powers you need an agency to hold them accountable,” he said. “Who will guard the guards themselves?
“Those guards must be responsible to the public. So someone I trust is ensuring that my human rights are not being violated behind my back.”
In the wake of the Snowden scandal, the balance has swung too far in favour of the police, according to Berners-Lee, who is a strong advocate of an individual’s right to privacy.
“The idea is that there should be complete online privacy and I should be able to communicate without others seeing what I am doing,” he said. “That said, serious cybercrime is a problem so police need the ability to spy on people and have the powers to do so.”