If you believe in the rule of law, in due process, in the right to free speech, please email your MP by clicking here and urge them to force a proper, democratic debate and parliamentary scrutiny for this bill. The reasons why can be found here. Its second reading is due next Tuesday so time is of the essence.
Last night I attended the demonstration outside parliament, organised by the Open Rights Group. They, I and others are determined to prevent the arbitrary passing of the Digital Economy Bill in the pre-general election ‘wash up’ period, where bills are voted on without debate or parliamentary scrutiny. Currently Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, is signalling that our wishes will be ignored and the most draconian, pro-corporate, anti-civil rights legislation yet attempted by New Labour will be waved through, regardless of the consequences. Under no circumstances should that be allowed to happen, and it was heartening to speak to Tom Watson MP after the demo – he made it clear that the organisation’s campaign to lobby MPs into demanding a debate for the Bill (which because of the limited ‘wash up’ period would mean either killing the Bill or forcing the removal of the contentious clauses 11-15) was beginning to have an effect. We must redouble our efforts, and watch the video for very clear reasons why. I spoke on Tuesday with Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty, who denounced the Bill as an attack on due process and the rule of law. She’s right, and it should concern us all.
The digital economy bill is highly controversial (What’s left of Digital Britain, Media, 22 March). We believe that it threatens to severely infringe fundamental human rights, by allowing the disconnection of internet accounts for alleged copyright infringement, and also by new “website blocking” laws that could result in new ways to suppress free speech and legitimate activity. There are also dangers to business, through restrictions on provision on open wifi networks, that could damage our economy.
But our worry today is that none of this will be properly debated by parliament. Last week, Harriet Harman MP failed to give the Commons any reassurances that this bill would be properly scrutinised by our elected MPs. Democracy and accountability will be sidestepped if this bill is rushed through and amended without debate.
For these reasons we are writing to ask that those most controversial parts of the bill – covering “technical measures” and court orders for website blocking – either be properly debated, or be taken out of the bill and subjected to genuine democratic scrutiny in a new parliament.
Anthony Barnett openDemocracy, Billy Bragg, Lord Errol, Bridget Fox Liberal Democrat PPC, Islington South & Finsbury, Jo Glanville Editor, Index on Censorship, John Grogan MP, Andrew Heaney Director of regulation, TalkTalk, Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat PPC, Cambridge, Julia and Simon Indelicate The Indelicates, Jim Killock Executive director, Open Rights Group, Nicholas Lansman Secretary general, ISPA, Graham Linehan screenwriter Caroline Lucas Leader, Green party, Baroness Miller, Simon Milner Director of industrial policy, BT, Peter Tatchell, Tom Watson MP, Lord Whitty Chair, Consumer Focus
(Source: The Guardian)
Contact Harriet Harman and tell her how fundamentally important debating the Bill is for our democracy itself. If you value free speech and the rule of law take two minutes right now.
Why isn’t the mainstream media talking about the Digital Economy Bill? If most people knew it was coming the response would be a full-scale revolution. The government’s authoritarian agenda would be in tatters; Labour would be out of power for an awful lot more than a generation. Are they scared of how to present it? Let me try:
- the government will be able to ban whatever website it likes, in secret and for no reason;
- the music industry (which is not suffering at all as a result of piracy) will get to control whether or not your family is able to access the internet at all;
- the government is convinced that banning people from the internet entirely is necessary to stop piracy, yet the majority of those engaged in ‘illegal’ downloading spend more on copyrighted material, not less;
- a new Tory/Liberal Democrat proposal, if endorsed by the Commons, would frighten websites the music and film industries don’t like into taking themselves offline;
- internet cafes, university wifi networks and the growing democratisation of the web will be destroyed, because the Bill will attack providers, not for their actions but for the actions of even just one of their users.
Does anyone really think this makes sense? There is survey evidence that young people (and who’s representing their interests at the upcoming general election?) will just find new means to bypass the government’s censorship proposals, but that’s not the fundamental point. The point is this: corporate Britain and New Labour are in cahoots, not to empower communities, but to make the excessively rich much richer and at the cost of your civil liberties and human rights. If you think that that would put us on the road to becoming China then join me at the demonstration organised by the Open Rights Group on the 24th March outside Parliament.
If you don’t stand up for your rights they will be taken away from you. It’s just how this government operates.
Just in case you were wondering where the idea for a web blocking amendment came from, we attach to this blog post a copy of the BPI’s draft, along with their justification for it.
Now, amendments often come from lobby and campaign groups, including us, not least because it’s the easiest way for them to show parliamentarians what they want. But the fact that twice, with the original copyright by diktat proposal, and then the web blocking proposal, the BPI essentially got to write what they wanted and get it proposed more or less wholesale as law, in such a tremendously sensitive area and in such a one-sided manner, shows something is very wrong with the way this debate is being conducted.
Parliamentarians need to recognize that copyright touches everyone and every technology in the digital age. It is no longer a question of inter-business regulation and deals. Getting copyright wrong has the potential to mess up our freedom of speech, prevent us from getting the benefits of new technologies, and damage society in other very profound ways.
It is therefore deeply inappropriate for such fundamental proposals to have been introduced by both the government or the opposition parties at the behest of one side of the debate. That applies just as much to disconnection, which Mandelson introduced in the summer at the last minute under pressure again from the BPI and other rights holders.
As the Conservatives launch their digital policies today – we again ask why these proposals are being supported, in such direct contradiction to their apparent aims?
We again urge you to take action on the Digital Economy Bill, and challenge your local candidates to say what they think.
(And come to our demonstration on March 24)
Cory Doctorow explains in a nutshell why Peter Mandelson’s Digital Economy Bill is so wrong:
And the BBC has conducted a survey which has found some interesting attitudes which back his perspective up:
Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right, a poll for the BBC World Service suggests.
The survey – of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide.
Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens.
International bodies such as the UN are also pushing for universal net access.
“The right to communicate cannot be ignored,” Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told BBC News.
“The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created.”
He said that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water”.
“We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”
Interestingly though in Britain 55% of those surveyed believed there was also a case for some governmental regulation of the Internet. The gap between attitudes is what Mandelson is counting on in order to get the Bill through before the general election. Due process and the rule of law would continue their decline under this draconian piece of legislation, and this and successive governments would not just be allowed to censor the Internet as they saw fit (and in secret), but they would also severely damage the most important new communication resource since the telephone. For what? Appeasement of the Labour Party’s corporate friends? What’s getting lost in this argument are the facts about filesharing:
- internet ‘pirates’ spend more on copyrighted material than they download;
- the music industry isn’t threatened by ‘piracy’, nor is the film industry
Should it then be possible to knock out university and library wifi connections (or most likely encourage them to knock themselves out for fear of future infringement) because of the possibility that one user might anger a corporate copyright holder? Should it be possible for corporate rights holders to bully websites into going offline? Should it then be possible to throw whole families off the Internet even though that family might already spend more on music and films than most other families? What about blocking websites if one of their users infringes copyright? Our priorities are all wrong. Join me to protest this disgraceful piece of legislation the week after next outside parliament. No doubt The Prince of Darkness will get his way; he always seems to. But as with the Iraq War those of us who can see what’s coming need to stand up for what’s right.
The Lords laid into the government last night, in a very emotive and passionate debate. There was anger, the same anger we are feeling.
Lords doubted that an accused infringer would have sufficient legal rights to appeal. They also made clear that the music industry and other copyright holders unleashed an “extraordinary degree of lobbying” in order to get the bill through as quickly as possible. Finally, Lords complained about the impact on libraries, universities and internet cafes with (open) wifi.
The Government front bench’s reply was disappointing to say the least. They don’t want to see unis in front of a court over infringement but don’t want to exclude them from the proposed law either.
The Government has been down playing the impact on these institutions and businesses in general and keeps saying that if we all behave sensibly it will all be fine. No it won’t.
The main problem remains that the account holder is responsible for infringements, not the infringer. The Government acknowledges that this is true, but doesn’t care.
Another worrying aspect is that the government thinks that it is unnecessary to pass on the bill to the Office of the Information Commissioner for oversight. They don’t even hide their intentions: It would delay the process of passing the bill into law.
There are some very serious concerns regarding the privacy of citizens and Lord Puttnam was right to accuse the Government of attempting to push the legislation through and not allowing proper discussion.
More importantly he said that the bill as it stands is not fit for purpose. Or a total mess you might want to add. Lord Puttnam said:
“I am absolutely convinced that, within the next two or three years, there will be another bill before this house which will be created to deal with the deficiencies of the present bill.”
Lords asked the right questions, but amendments were withdrawn or votes on amendments lost. The government’s idea to rush though with the legislation became apparent once more as they ‘discussed’ a block of 5 or more amendments at a time.
A whole lot of the bill remains unclear or unspecified and opposition peers have tried to get answers from the government. It may look like a naïve question when the Conservative front bench asks what hotels should do if they receive an infringement notice for a guest, but it points to one of the major problems of the bill.
How would internet cafes, libraries, universities deal with infringers? What happens to their connection of they receive the qualified amount of infringement reports from Ofcom? If they get disconnected how would students, for instance, continue their studies?
The government has not offered any satisfactory solutions to this problem.
The debate continues tomorrow with the most crucial pieces of the legislation, i.e. clauses 11 and 17. We will be tweeting from 4pm.
What can you do?
We want to make this bill a public debate across the country as the election approaches. That’s why we are asking you to write to your local paper and let people know that disconnection is wrong. Ask your MP and election candidates what their positions on the Digital Economy Bill is.
It’s time to get worried. By way of the digital economy bill, Lord Mandelson means to punish innocent people and limit their right to a fair trial. He means to grant his successors the power to block web content by order, without restriction. His proposals are aimed at restricting copyright infringers, but in reality will damage many people who have never done anything wrong.
The reason for this is as simple as it is unjust. Mandelson and the music companies monitoring copyright infringement can perhaps identify the household, business or cafe where someone is uploading a file, but they cannot identify which person or computer did it. Their answer is to make the internet account holder – the person paying the bill – liable for everyone’s actions. And then, to disconnect the entire household.
Disconnection of whole families is not an acceptable punishment. It is the modern day equivalent of banishment: it will disrupt social lives, education and people’s livelihoods. It is designed to threaten and intimidate, and cow people into behaving, with no regard to the consequences of using the law in such a manner.
Restricting the right to a fair trial, state censorship, disproportionate state punishment against households (and businesses of all kinds) for the actions of individuals – these are the tools used by tin pot dictatorships. The Executive Director of the Open Rights Group is right – this isn’t the way our government should be behaving over anything, and we shouldn’t be fooled – the people most at risk of the bill are younger people, who have amongst the least power in society, and who are currently possibly the most ignored minority group in the run-up to the general election. The bill will affect everyone, because it’ll give the government the right to arbitrarily censor the internet as it sees fit. Abuses by such laws are already kicking off in Australia, and it would be crazy to think the same wouldn’t happen here – when laws exist which can be abused, they are invariably abused; it’s the nature of power. Killock continues:
Hardly anybody thinks this bill is a good idea – outside of the music and film lobbies; not even most musicians I have spoken to. But politicians need to hear us much more loudly if they are going to react. You can help by contacting your MP, and explaining what this bill really means, to you and to others. You can take action with Open Rights Group: do it now!
Jim Killock, 05 February 2010
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has released their analysis of the Digital Economy BIll, which has a pretty damning conclusion: we have a the right to a free trial. We must be presumed innocent. An the EU’s ‘internet freedom’ matters.
Read it, get angry, and take action!
Right to fair trial
One serious concern is around the lack of sufficient due judicial process. At the moment the Bill defines a process of appeals with no presumption of innocence. This process will be applied irrespective of the sanction or evidence. Natural justice dictates that the accused must have the opportunity / right to (before any sanction is imposed) a prior hearing decided upon by an independent third party where they are assumed innocent and the onus is on the ‘prosecution’ to prove guilt. In the particular case of disconnection – which is a severe punishment the need for a prior hearing based on an innocence presumption is unquestionably essential (irrespective of whether it is notionally considered a ‘civil offence’ or not).
We think that proposals are inconsistent with intent of the new ‘Internet Freedom’ clause and probably the letter of the clause as well. The text itself says “… measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. A prior fair and impartial procedure shall be guaranteed”. Mme Reding said yesterday “Effective and timely judicial review is as much guaranteed as a prior, fair and impartial procedure, the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy.” We simply cannot see how any fair reading of this clause could not sensibly conclude that in the case of disconnection a prior hearing based on an innocence presumption is required.
Alongside these concerns is a more general concern about the lack of proportionality in that, where citizen rights are threatened, proportionality requires that the least intrusive means is used to address a problem. The concern with s11 is that the way the reserve powers are cast means that there is no requirement to ensure that the most proportionate route is used or even attempted.
As we detail below the first model is preferable to the second model proposed under clauses 11- 14 of this Bill from the point of view of human rights. That is not to say however that it is not without its problems and difficulties as set out above. A fundamental problem with the whole approach to dealing with illegal file-sharing in the Digital Economy Bill is the difficulty in identifying the actual copyright infringer.However, the first model is clearly a more proportionate approach than the second, which could lead to disconnection and could breach the right to freedom of expression. TalkTalk argue that no technical measure, such as disconnection, should be imposed on an individual without proper and fair due process including a starting presumption of innocence, the need for the rightsholders to prove ‘guilt’ and a process for ensuring that any sanction is proportionate to the particular circumstances. It is morally and legally wrong to impose sanctions without ex ante due process particularly given the unreliability of the evidence used as the basis of the allegations, and the fact that the human rights of many innocent internet users could be detrimentally affected.
Peter Mandelson’s sudden conversion to disconnecting filesharers from the internet to get the ‘problem’ of p2p under control has been attacked by chief executives of Britain’s internet service providers (ISP):
In a letter to The Times, Charles Dunstone of TalkTalk, Ian Livingston of BT and Tom Alexander of Orange UK criticised the proposals on how to reduce illegal filesharing announced last month, which include the possibility of disconnecting accounts.
The letter, also signed by Deborah Prince of Which?, Ed Mayo of Consumer Focus and Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, said innocent consumers would suffer.
The letter itself reads as follows:
Consumers must be presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. We must avoid an extrajudicial “kangaroo court” process where evidence is not tested properly and accused broadband users are denied the right to defend themselves against false accusations. Without these protections innocent customers will suffer. Any penalty must be proportionate. Disconnecting users from the internet would place serious limits on their freedom of expression. Usually, constraints to freedom of expression are imposed only as the result of custodial sentences, or incitement to racial hatred, or libel.
A point very nicely put. Mandelson’s plans represent the same problem posed by the Independent Safeguarding Authority – they are the equivalent of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, benefit entirely the wrong people, and would have side effects – most notably (in both cases) of undermining the rule of law. It’s heartening to see these people bringing the issue back to that, because ahead of any other transgression, it’s the undermining of the rule of law which remains this government’s most appalling achievement. Join us in fighting to stop it, and join me at the Pirate Party UK’s first public meeting this Saturday at 5.30pm in London.