Tim Berners-Lee: internet freedom must be safeguarded

Tim Berners-Lee receives his award from the Queen

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has said his invention of the world wide web should be safeguarded from being controlled by governments or large corporations. The computer scientist’s words of warning came as he and five colleagues were recognised by the Queen for their pioneering work in helping to create the internet.

Berners-Lee, Robert Kahn, Vint Cerf and Louis Pouzin were jointly awarded the inaugural £1m Queen Elizabeth prize for engineering during a glittering Buckingham Palace reception attended by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

Their work in establishing first the internet, a network of interconnected computer systems, then interlinked web pages accessed via the internet has revolutionised communication.

The Queen described how their achievements had completely changed aspects of modern life and hailed engineering as the “noble profession”.

Asked to comment on the claims made by fugitive American whistleblower Edward Snowden that his invention is being used by governments to access communications between individuals, Berners-Lee said: “The original design of the web of 24 years ago was for a universal space, we didn’t have a particular computer in mind or browser, or language.

“When you make something universal … it can be used for good things or nasty things … we just have to make sure it’s not undercut by any large companies or governments trying to use it and get total control.”

The Queen Elizabeth prize for engineering is designed to reward and celebrate individuals responsible for ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has benefited the whole of humanity.

During the presentation ceremony, the Queen said: “At its heart, engineering is about using science to find creative, practical solutions. It is a noble profession.

“These days, engineering is seldom a solo effort and is increasingly a global endeavour. The winners of the first prize are a splendid example of this – five individuals across two continents who have completely transformed the way we communicate, do business and share knowledge. Our congratulations go not only to the winners, but also to their colleagues and teams.

“The internet and the world wide web have brought the world and its people together in ways we could not have imagined 60, or even 30, years ago. And so, I have great pleasure in giving my name to this prize.”

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