Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, believes whistleblowers should be given special protection even if they break the law, according to comments he made at the opening of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.
The British computer scientist, speaking in the wake of the Wikileaks and Edward Snowden scandals, said people who leak confidential data are necessary because government “systems of accountability have failed.”
“We have to rely on the whistleblower at the end of the day,” Berners-Lee said.
Berners-Lee’s words are topical amid the U.S. fury over computer analyst Edward Snowden, who leaked top-secret National Security Agency documents that revealed the extent of government surveillance on the public and other states.
Despite the upset over such leaks, Berners-Lee said whistleblowers’ work is essential to counter authorities’ infringements on citizens’ privacy, adding that more accountability is required for governments wishing to spy on citizens’ online activities.
“It’s clear that the systems in the U.S. and UK have not been good enough. The systems of accountability have failed,” he said. “In the future, what we have to do is set that system up.”
Whistleblowers who have been forced to disclose information after exhausting other legal channels deserve “special protection,” he added.
“I think you need protection, even though you may as a whistleblower may have clearly violated laws,” he said.
Berners-Lee is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which oversees the Web’s continued development.
The invitation-only Abu Dhabi Media Summit started on Tuesday and runs until October 24, organized in conjunction with the twofour54 media zone.
Other speakers include Mark Hollinger, head of Discovery Networks International, and Shailesh Rao, vice-president for international operations at Twitter.
The Summit was opened by Khaldoon Khalifa al-Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi media zone twofour54.
He underlined the importance of the internet and digital technology in everyday life – not least because of the efforts made by Berners-Lee.
“Very few people have had as big impact on our daily lives as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web,” he said.