Only governments can safeguard the openness of the internet

By Rufus Pollock – On 6 October 1536, in the prison yard of Vilvoorde castle near modern-day Brussels, a man named William Tyndale was strangled then burnt at the stake. His crime? To translate the Latin Bible into English, his native tongue. A priest and scholar, Tyndale was an information freedom-fighter, whose mission was to open up the scripture for ordinary men and women.

Tyndale worked in the midst of an extraordinary new information era, ushered in by the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. Prior to the press, there were just 30,000 books in all of Europe; some 50 years later, in 1500, there were more than 10 million. The Catholic Church had responded to these developments with alarm. It tried to retain a monopoly on biblical interpretation by declaring translations from Latin heretical. Their logic was simple: control the flow of information, and you control its power.

Like Tyndale, today’s citizens are living through another information revolution.

Tyndale set out to use the technology at his disposal to empower and liberate ordinary people, giving them the opportunity to understand, think and make decisions for themselves. Open information meant believing that people should be free to encounter and recombine ideas at will, without some grand designer dictating the appropriate ends.

Radio offers a cautionary tale. Commentary about radio in the 1920s sounds eerily similar to discussions of the internet today. more>

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