"Imagine the world, if the World Wide Web was turned off."
That's the premise offered by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, in a thought-provoking video that celebrates the 25th anniversary of WWW. In his message, Berners-Lee describes the web as "a powerful enabler of people, economic activity and democracy" and heralds the enormous achievement of building a global web "together".
While the web has enabled great things, Berners-Lee believes that it is under threat. A quarter of a century since its inception, his founding principle of a universal web, accessible to all, hasn't yet been realised - and there are stern challenges ahead.
Among them, nearly two-thirds of the planet can't yet access the Web, through lack of connectivity in remote places coupled with restrictions on compatible devices. There is also the issue of monitoring. Berners-Lee asks a pointed question: Who has the right to collect and use our personal data, for what purpose and under what rules?
The last question is indeed highly sensitive. It comes at a time when the media is rife with stories pertaining to Edward Snowden, who revealed that the U.S. and British governments are carrying out surveillance of Internet activity. It also links with other reports such as China's Great Firewall, via which the government seeks to control Internet access and usage.
These cases throw the question of human rights, and the very foundation upon which the Web was built, into the spotlight. Shouldn't we be allowed to use the web freely, without monitoring or surveillance? Or, amid ceaseless threats of terrorism and cyber attacks, would the world become a safer, better place if the Web were policed?
Berners-Lee concedes that there are no easy answers to these questions, and believes that because the Web was "built by all of us... we all can, and should, play a role in defining its future."
What do you think? Can the Web be truly Universal? Should access be a human right? How do we protect our data? And what steps should be taken to improve the World Wide Web for future generations?