This is our second guest post. The first is available here.
Dominique Lazanski is an experienced digital consultant and a regular writer and commentator on Internet policy and regulation from a free market perspective. She has over 10 years of experience in Silicon Valley with spells at Yahoo! and Apple and has spent the last several years in London as a consultant to the music industry and media agencies.
The Times reports that Lord Mandelson will use today's debate on the Digital Economy Bill to announce his intention to continue with government plans to cut off internet access for users who illegally download music.
The Digital Britain report, released in June of this year, outlined the government’s plans to make the UK more "digitally competitive and engaged". A crackdown on illegal file sharing was among its many proposals. In short, the government would mandate that all ISPs (Internet Service Providers) monitor file sharing activity on their networks and cut off those who engage in illegal activites.
This may not seem like a big deal. But when one looks at the implementation proposals in the Digital Britain plan (which is, perhaps deliberately, very long and very obscure) this is in fact a gross expansion of government power for several reasons:
- First, in order to implement network monitoring the ISPs themselves must incur the costs of making the monitoring happen. The government is now telling businesses how they must spend their money. ISPs will be forced to change how they conduct their business too – ISPs will move from being simply Internet providers and become Internet monitors as well
- Second, and much more worrying, is that the government intends to “provide for backstop powers for Ofcom to place additional conditions on ISPs to reduce or prevent copyright infringement …” Essentially, the government will allow Ofcom to dictate and control how the ISPs monitor and cut off their users.
- Finally, there will be a “trigger mechanism” which would give ISPs and rights holders incentives to make this whole thing work. The idea of “trigger mechanism” was vague enough that a consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) was held to further define what this is. In flushing this out in the consultation BIS decided that it would be best to give the Secretary of State the power to grant Ofcom the necessary power it needs to not only demand the suspension of user accounts, but to force ISPs to give over data and information of those users. This means that the government would circumvent due process and give power directly to Ofcom to make legal decisions about how we use the Internet.
If passed in November, the Digital Economy Bill will allow for the legal implementation of Digital Britain – including the discussed file sharing proposals. Let us hope that it doesn’t pass because the government shouldn't control our Internet access. If it does pass, then a Tory government should repeal it.
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