Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the Web Foundation, has called for the Internet to be recognised as a basic human right. At the release of the 2014-15 Web Index — the world’s first measure of the Web’s contribution to social, economic and political progress — Sir Tim noted that in our increasingly unequal world, the Web has the potential to be a great equalizer, but only “if we hardwire the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, affordable access and net neutrality into the rules of the game.”
The 2014-15 edition of the Web Foundation’s annual Web Index examines key Web issues — including privacy, censorship, gender-based violence, equality and, for the first time ever, net neutrality — across 86 countries. The findings from this year’s Index point to a Web that is becoming less free and more unequal. Almost 60% of the world’s people — 4.3 billion — cannot get online, while over half of those who can access the Web live in countries that severely restrict their rights online. Indiscriminate government surveillance and online censorship are both on the rise. 84% of countries are adjudged to have weak or non-existent laws to protect citizens from indiscriminate mass surveillance, up from 63% in 2013. Meanwhile, 38% of countries are now censoring politically or socially sensitive content to a ‘moderate or extensive’ degree — an increase of 6% from 2013. In addition, only a quarter of the countries assessed this year effectively enforce clear rules to protect net neutrality.
The Web Index shows that nations that have high levels of wealth, low levels of inequality, and strong protection for civil liberties — such as top-ranked Denmark, Finland and Norway — are gaining the most social and economic benefit from the Web. The positive correlation between wealth, education and benefit from the digital revolution is a concerning trend, with the potential to further entrench global inequality and undermine the free and open Web. “This trend can and must reversed,” said Anne Jellema, CEO of the Web Foundation and lead author of the 2014-15 Web Index report.
In order to reverse this slide and leverage the power of technology to fight inequality, the Web Foundation is calling on policymakers to:
- Accelerate progress towards universal access by increasing access to affordable Internet and ensuring that everyone can use the Web all of the time, safely, freely and privately.
- Level the playing field by preventing price discrimination in Internet traffic, and treating the Internet like any other public utility.
- Invest in high-quality public education for all to ensure that technological progress doesn’t leave some groups behind.
- Promote participation in democracy and protect freedom of opinion by reversing the erosion of press freedom and civil liberties, using the Web to increase government transparency, and protecting the freedoms of speech, association, and privacy.
- Create opportunities for women and poor and marginalised groups by investing more in ICTs to overcome key barriers in health, education, agriculture and gender equity.