Magna Carta for the Internet - A project to develop a new 'Great Charter' for the internet

To tie in with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015, the British Library plans a project called ‘Magna Carta for the Internet’. Inspired by the power struggle between king, barons and the people 800 years ago, and informed by the debate about the balance of power between state, corporations and individuals on the internet, we will invite people to suggest single-clause sentences to form a new Magna Carta for the internet. Aimed mainly at schools and young people but open to all, the project will encourage global debate about power, accountability, rights and responsibilities in the digital age. The project would be delivered in an international partnership with the WWWF (World Wide Web Foundation), Southbank Centre and Mozilla.

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The project would run from 15th June 2014 to 15th June 2015, bridging the 25th anniversary celebrations of the World Wide Web and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, making strong connections between the two, and feeding into initiatives such as the WWWF's ‘Web We Want’ campaign [].
A call would go out – with appropriate publicity – inviting suggestions for single-sentence clauses to form part of a new, virtual 'Magna Carta for the Internet', that would describe the rights and responsibilities of people, corporations and governments in the digital space.
Individual clauses would be encouraged to be as concise as possible, with a bias towards Tweet-length sentences.  People would be able to submit as many clauses as they wish, including variants of the same idea. Guidance would be given on how to use Magna Carta-style formulas (eg. "the state shall...", "corporations shall not…."), but contributors will be able to use whatever style they wish.
Special support and resources will be given to teachers in UK high schools, including suggested themes to focus and structure discussion, such as: security and secrets; trolling and cyber-bullying; privacy and the right to be forgotten; ownership of personal data; copyrights and wrongs; state surveillance and intrusion; etc.
A simple 4-character hashtag would be created such as #mci, with debate encouraged via all the main social media services, alongside contributions via a central portal. The debate can happen anywhere: in classrooms, front-rooms or pubs.
The official 'open call' would end in early February 2015, before the historic unification in London of the four surviving issues of the 1215 Magna Carta at the British Library.  A research team could analyse the dataset of all proposed clauses to identify themes and key ideas. To coincide with the BL's major exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy opening in March 2015, an installation would be created – potentially in multiple locations – that would display a constant, randomised loop of suggested clauses, attributed to their authors where a name has been submitted.  In addition, there would be an accompanying season of debates, events and discussions.
A final stage of the project would take place in the build-up to the climactic Magna Carta celebrations in June 2015. This might for example involve groups of young people across the UK getting together to discuss and shape their ideal 'Magna Carta for the Internet' out of the mass of contributions. A permanent record of the project would be made available on the web via the UK Web Archive.

In ONE sentence, tell us about your project to strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation.

We will call for suggestions for single-sentence clauses for a new 'Magna Carta for the Internet', which describes the rights and responsibilities of people, corporations and governments in the digital space, then publicise them in a season of events and discussions to accompany the opening of our major new exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy opening in March 2015.

Who will benefit from what you propose? What have you observed that makes you think that?

Our main beneficiaries will be young people, who will gain an increased understanding of the debate around rights and responsibilities in our digital lives, through drawing parallels with the continued relevance and potency of Magna Carta. The project will aim to educate and inspire young people about the lasting influence and power of words when they’re used effectively and precisely. The British Library has an established track record in working with schools and young people on projects such as this.

Although young people of high school age will be the principal beneficiaries, this will form part of a wider debate around these issues which will include the general public as a whole, and we aim to make a major contribution to the global debate around these issues.

What progress have you made so far?

So far the British Library has held high-level discussions on the project with WWWF, Southbank in London and Mozilla as well as with parliamentarians and other interest groups in the UK. A discussion paper was also circulated to a broad stakeholder group about the project in advance of the Web’s 25th anniversary celebrations last week.

What would be a successful outcome for your idea or project?

Our goal will be to enable young people to understand their own and others’ rights and responsibilities in an increasingly digital and connected world. We will promote a wider public debate which draws interesting connections between Magna Carta and the World Wide Web and informs public opinion globally. The British Library will also create a unique dataset to highlight potential new areas of research into how people, particularly young people, view their rights on the web today.

Who is on your team, and what are their relevant experiences or skills?

Four major international organisations working in partnership including:
British Library – the Library will lead on the learning aspect of the programme, provide a venue for debates and discussions about the topic and analyse the data of the crowd-sourcing initiative through its digital scholarship team

WWWF – the WWWF are already doing a great deal of work in this area and this project will link to their current Web We Want campaign. The WWWF will bring in their international network into the project, access to Tim Berners-Lee and other key major international players

Southbank – One of London’s leading arts venues is developing an exhibition and series of events to celebrate the web’s 25th anniversary. The Southbank will develop an interactive display to bring the project to life.

Mozilla – Mozilla plan to develop an online learning tool and platform for schools and learners to interact with the project. This will be distributed through online teaching kits to schools through their webmaker platform and also through Moz-Fest and Maker Parties which are developed to help young people improve their digital skills.


London, UK


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Photo of KK Rebecca

Great idea for a revival of the Magna Carta. As described, 'the Magna Carta of the Internet' would create a guideline and forum for public debate. Do you see it being somewhat enforceable in the future and being widely adopted by the makers of the internet? If so, how?

Photo of James

Hi Rebecca,

Many thanks for your comment. We see our project as a way of engaging with a young community about the themes and subject of the Magna Carta and making it relevant for today’s society.

The idea is to ensure that there is a legacy that comes out of the Magna Carta celebrations in 2015 that encourages school children in particular to debate, discuss and engage on issues like freedom and citizenship, and, in particular, to think about the rights and responsibilities we all have in the internet age. For many young people the internet reflects their own lives, so therefore giving them the chance to say what is important for them about the future of the internet is, we think, very valuable.

The findings can be used in a variety of ways. We will make the data available for researchers to use and we know that one of our partners, the World Wide Web Foundation, may use the data to help guide the development of future policy about how the internet should be governed and how we could ensure that our freedoms are protected online.