Father of the Web lambastes cyber snooping bill

Yet another industry heavyweight lays into Jack Straw's RIP Bill

British scientist Tim Berners-Lee, credited as the founding father of the World Wide Web, publicly damned British legislation proposing increased Internet surveillance and controls over online privacy Sunday.

In an Interview in The Observer newspaper Berners-Lee says the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill will stifle creativity within Britain's Internet industry.

"It gives a government great power to abuse personal and commercial innovation," says Berners-Lee, who lives in the United States. He adds that in America such legislation would be rejected, "in an second".

The controversial new Bill will require Internet Service Providers to install equipment enabling the British security services to monitor all Internet browsing and email in the UK. The Bill will also give the police the power to demand keys required for decrypting enciphered messages.

Berners-Lee expresses concern over the accountability for these new powers. "There's very little protection. There's no recourse if your information has been pilfered by the Government, and even if it comes to light there is very little you can do," he says in the report.

He suggests that there should be independent regulation. "Is there any way the press can ever find out to what extent this is happening?" he says. "Is there any independent agency which has the right to follow up every request and find out statistically to what extent some of these things were just abuses of power?"

A graduate of Oxford University, Berners-Lee invented technology in 1989 for viewing hypertext documents that has evolved into the World Wide Web. He is currently director of the World Wide Web consortium.

While civil libertarians condemn the RIP Bill as a violation of the basic rights to privacy, industry representatives have also warned that the Bill will restrain British e-commerce.

A report from the London School of Economics, commissioned by the British Chamber of Commerce and to be presented to the Lords Monday, is expected to claim that the Bill will cost Britain tens of billions of pounds in lost investment. The Institute of Directors has also criticised the Bill.

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