A Magna Carta for the Internet???

Commemorating the end of the 1914-18 Great War has, rightly, been one of the key themes in of the last week. The Badger found Remembrance Services and silence at the 11th Hour on the 11th day of the 11th month 100 years after the end of the war poignant, sobering and thought provoking. A relative of the Badger served in the army throughout. He won the Military Medal and survived, but it’s difficult to imagine the harrowing carnage he encountered during the war and his difficulties in civilian life afterwards. After all, the Great War was a real turning point for the world. Empires unravelled, the world order changed, and social, political and class structures changed forever, and economic hardship was commonplace.

In the run up to the Great War political, social, economic, military and technological factors drove widespread propaganda. Today’s internet-driven world has the potential for similar dynamics, and so the Badger was intrigued last week when Sir Tim Berners-Lee – father of the World Wide Web – launched a campaign to establish a kind of Magna-Carta to defend a free and open internet. The initiative appears to be driven by worries about the abuse of personal data, political manipulation, extremism and the power of a few major tech groups. Opinions seem to vary about Sir Tim’s campaign, and one published in the Register caused the Badger to wonder if Sir Tim’s campaign would it be a game changer and a defining moment in today’s tech-driven world, or just a distraction.

The Badger’s thoughts ranged from the idealistic with a Magna Carta seeding a turning point in the tech-driven world (like the Great War but without the human carnage), to replaying thoughts in a previous blog item, and to the revolutionary where big business’s internet domination and desire to grab, manipulate, and keep your attention for commercial gain is demolished. The Badger concluded simply that the genie has been out of the bottle for years and that Sir Tim’s initiative is unlikely to change the dominant power of big business. A Magna Carta of principles without real teeth and the full force of international law won’t put the genie back in the bottle even if big business smiles sweetly and supports it.

Sorry Sir Tim. Many in the general public will support your desire for something to be done, but not perhaps in the way you’re suggesting. The Badger feels that if, as predicted, 50% of the world population will be online by early 2019, then the internet is surely part of ‘the world’s critical infrastructure’. It will therefore need something stronger than your proposed ‘Magna Carta’ to protect everyone’s interests!

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