The Semantic Web and Information Flow: a Legal Framework

June 16, 2012

Considered by many as the next key development in Internet technology, the semantic web has generated a lot of buzz recently. A creation of Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, the semantic web is a “web of data,” a technology that promises to provide the world with enhanced access to information through more efficient and sophisticated content indexing. There are, however, dangerous side-effects to the system. As a labeling system, the semantic web bears the potential to provide sophisticated new tools for enhanced control of information distribution by governments. Ironically, however, perhaps because Dr. Berners-Lee’s previous invention served as a catalyst of unrestrained information flow worldwide, there has been little if any analysis of the potential to use the semantic web as a tool of enhanced control. This paper aims at filling the gap, by unveiling unintentional externalities of content-tagging systems such as the semantic web from the standpoint of the free flow of and access to information and by alerting the computer science community that further work needs to be done as the semantic web is being developed, in order to minimize these externalities and further embed freedom in the technology.