The Great Charter


If you head over to the BBC World Service website you can – until July 9 at least – listen to a one hour radio drama that is concerned with some of the big issues that face us over the next decade, issues around the control and use of the Internet, the boundaries between the state and the companies that increasingly dominate our daily lives, and the importance of engineers.

It’s called The Great Charter and was written by Matthew Solon and produced by Goldhawk Productions. Commissioned to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, it’s set ten years into the future at a summit that will decide whether the exlusive G20 group of the world’s twenty largest economies will admit the I5 – the largest online corporations – as full members, effectively acknowledging that they have become ‘countries’ for all practical purposes. During the discussion an attack is mounted on the Internet, and only the engineers providing cybersecurity for the summit can fix the problem. Cue a debate about a ‘charter for the Internet’.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m slightly biased in its favour since I worked closely with the writer and production team on the scenario and was the main technical advisory on both the realities of network brownouts and flaws in the Border Gateway Protocol, and the main issues a charter of rights between the governments, ISPs and the people might want to address – surveillance, access and the use of the network as a weapon are top of my list.

I hope a lot of people listen to it, and I hope it stirs some debate about the issues – as well as helping us reflect a little on just how dependent we have become on this privately owned infrastructure. We may call it the ‘public’ internet but in reality every node, every link and every computer is owned by someone, and little of it lies in public hands. It’s as if the entire road network was built and managed by thousands of private companies who were free to set up toll gates, could decide not to connect their A-road to your motorway, and were free to search your car every time you set off on a journey.

The Great Charter