- Don’t let Anders Behring Breivik become an excuse to encroach on human rights, said Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Since the twin terror attacks on Utöya and Oslo 22/7 last year, Norway has seen demands to censor and monitor web communications grow stronger as people have looked for ways to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.
The man who committed the atrocities has been portrayed as a terrorist who would have been unable to create the destruction he did without the internet – as he copy-pasted so much of his manifesto and strategy from web sources and committed his crimes with the explicit hope of making his manifesto a viral hit.
"If only someone had monitored the comment sections on far right-wing news sites and blogs better, could he have been stopped before he managed to slay 77 people?," is a question that has been asked repeatedly in many forms since 22/7.
Recently, The Norwegian Police Service (PST) even asked to have the comment sections of news sites and debate forums governed by the Data Retention Act in order to "better investigate hateful comments and threats towards people in authority."
So obtaining a short interview with Berners-Lee when he was in Oslo speaking at Gulltaggen, a Nordic digital marketing conference, last week I asked him how he thought society should respond to the likes of Breivik, who relied heavily on the web to organise his campaign and to espouse his ideas.
"I think we have to be very careful with fundamental human rights. Here we have two different levels. On the first level, police should go to these sites were people are discussing hate crimes and infiltrate these," he said.
But he also warned that the authorities do not need extra powers to automatically monitor everyone on the planet.
"A normal person must be able to go the web to research a sensitive issue, such as a medical condition, safe in the knowledge that this will remain between him an the website," he said.
Berners-Lee said he was concerned about how increased demands for monitoring the web, both from governments looking for greater powers to track down terrorists and companies looking to trade our personal web data for commercial purposes, threatens the very infrastructure of the web.
He described his worry that people in the end will no longer trust and use the web for e.g. researching sensitive things like depression if they fear everything they do online is being monitored.
On the Data Retention Act and similar initiatives, he had the following comment:
"If you collect a lot of personal data in once place this can easily become dynamite. You have a lot of sensitive information sitting there in a database, becoming a very attractive target for cyber criminals or rough states using hackers to attack other countries’ infrastructure where it is most vulnerable," he said, referring to how cyber crime and cyber terrorism is on the increase.
Talking to Norwegian intelligence sources when I interviewed Misha Glenny in connection with his new book ”DarkMarket: CyberThieves, Cybercops and You” in November, they confirmed cyber crime and cyber attacks on national infrastructure was also on the rise in Norway.
As for that Tim Berners-Lee interview: I’m used to opinions being strongly divided in the comment section on technology stories for VG, Norway’s biggest news site, but on this story every single commenter applauded Berners-Lee's comments.