Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Digital Economy Bill

The Digital Economy Bill was rushed through Westminster a couple of days ago. The bill was announced in the 2009 Queen’s speech and its main aims were to stimulate the creation of new and innovative services via the Internet and make Britain more competitive within a digitally-based economy. Its other aim was to curtail internet piracy. Piracy is theft and should be condemned as it prevents artists, musicians, writers and anyone involved in the creative industries from receiving a just reward for their labour.

However the problem is that the law has been rushed through parliament without proper scrutiny taking advantage of parliament’s dissolution on Monday. According to George Kerevan writing in The Scotsman, only 35 MPs turned up for the second reading of the bill. As it stands, the bill gives ministers, not the courts, the power to order internet service providers to ban your household from the Internet if your connection consistently downloads and/or shares pirated files. Inevitably, this means that if you have a wi-fi connection, you might run the risk of being cut off, if a hacker accesses the Internet through your account and uses it illegally. Wi-fi connections need from now on to be “reasonably” secure. However, it is not entirely clear what “reasonable” means, beyond password protection etc.

More troublesome is the onus placed on Internet service providers to report on the on-line activities of service users. This amounts to an invasion of civil liberties. Under which criteria would  internet service providers (ISPs) be allowed to “spy” on service users and begin to report activities? It is worrisome that commercial pressures have been placed above the right to privacy, and right of courts to sanction unlawful behaviours. The Internet is now an everyday part of most people’s lives in Scotland. We use it for education, entertainment, shopping and work. What will be the implication of the bill to libraries, internet cafes, schools, universities, church-halls? Some advice on protecting your connections has been given by Department for Business Innovation and Skills . However, the social implications of such measures are not discussed at all. Will such draconian measures curtail access to people who do not have an internet connection at home and therefore increase the divide between the digitally poor and the digitally rich? What are the implication of commercial companies (ISPs) having the obligation to observe and report on-line user activities? Who will oversee that those powers are not abused?

I am all for the defence of intellectual property rights, but I do not understand why the bill had to be passed without due scrutiny. Whose interests have been served by proceeding with such speed?

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