Sir Tim Berners-Lee- UK and US govt encryption cracking is appalling and foolish

By Dyenamic Solitions - Last updated: Thursday, November 7, 2013 - Save & Share - One Comment

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who created the world wide web called for a “full and frank public debate” over internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and GCHQ- warning that the system of checks and balances to oversee the agencies has failed.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee- UK and US govt encryption cracking is appalling and foolishAs the inventor of the global system of inter-connectivity known as the web, with its now ubiquitous www and http, Berners-Lee is uniquely qualified to comment on the internet spying revealed by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In an interview with the Guardian, he expressed particular outrage that GCHQ and the NSA had weakened online security by cracking much of the online encryption on which hundreds of millions of users rely to guard data privacy.

He said the agencies’ decision to break the encryption software was appalling and foolish, as it directly contradicted efforts of the US and UK governments to fight cybercrime and cyberwarfare, which they have identified as a national security priority. Berners-Lee also said it was a betrayal of the technology industry.

“Whistleblowers, and responsible media outlets that work with them, play an important role in society. We need powerful agencies to combat criminal activity online – but any powerful agency needs checks and balances and, based on recent revelations, it seems the current system of checks and balances has failed,” he said.

As the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that seeks to forward global standards for the web, Berners-Lee is a leading authority on the power and the vulnerabilities of the internet.

He said the Guardian’s coverage of the Snowden leaks had to be seen within the context of the failure of oversight of GCHQ’s and the NSA’s surveillance activities. “Here is where whistleblowing and responsible reporting can step in to protect society’s interests.

“It seems clear that the Guardian’s reporting around the scale and scope of state surveillance has been in the public interest and has uncovered many important issues which now need a full and frank public debate.”

Talking in his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Berners-Lee said that though he had anticipated many of the surveillance activities exposed by Snowden, he had not been prepared for the scale of the NSA/GCHQ operations. “I didn’t realise it would be so big,” he said.

At worst, such spying could damage the public’s confidence in the intimate privacy of the internet as a free and safe place to interact. “When you take away the safe space, you take away a lot of the power of human problem solving,” he warned.

He also criticised the cracking of encryption on ethical grounds: “Any democratic country has to take the high road; it has to live by its principles. I’m very sympathetic to attempts to increase security against organised crime, but you have to distinguish yourself from the criminal.”

Berners-Lee said that the series of Snowden disclosures revealed a failure at the heart of oversight in both the US and UK governments, which he called “dysfunctional and unaccountable”. The leaked documents raised the question: who guards the guards themselves?

In practice, he said, the only practical answer to that question was the whistleblowers. He called for the introduction of an international system of protection for whistleblowers such as Snowden, who has taken a year’s temporary refuge in Russia.

The Obama administration has pursued official leakers heavily, launching eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act including that of Snowden himself – more than twice the total number under all previous presidents.

“Civilisation has to a certain extent depended on whistleblowers, and therefore you have to protect them,” Berners-Lee said.

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