Tim Berners-Lee slams encryption-busting surveillance agencies

Inventor of World Wide Web brands decision “appalling and foolish."

Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web, has hit out at spies who cracked encryption to monitor communications on the internet.

His comments, made in an interview with The Guardian, come ahead of a the first ever appearance of the heads of UK intelligence agencies MI5, MI6 and GCHQ together in front of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee at 2.00pm today.

Referring to the Prism internet monitoring scandal, Berners-Lee said the decision by spy agencies in the UK and US to crack open encrypted communications was both "appalling and foolish." He added that it was also counterproductive for their efforts to fight cyber crime and cyber warfare as it weakens online security.

"It's nave to imagine that if you introduce a weakness into a system you will be the only one to use it," Berners-Lee said, likening the behaviour of the agencies to those of a totalitarian state," he said. 

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"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." 

He also slammed the oversight of surveillance by UK and US authorities as "dysfunctional and unaccountable," while commending the Guardian's reporting on the issue of Prism and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

GCHQ is descended from the UK Governmenr Code & Cypher School (GC&CS), which was founded during the First World War and whose employees, including Alan Turing, famously broke the German Enigma Code during the Second World War.

IT Pro will be reporting the news from the Intelligence and Security Committee hearing later today.

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