Frustrated by the Digital Economy Bill

Days after the Digital Economy Bill (more details) was made law, I’m still incredibly angry and frustrated about the stitch-up that saw both the Tories and Labour rush an extremely bad bill into law, forcing their MPs to vote for it after a derisory debate with a three-line whip.

I understand that with the state of the economy, the deficit, Afghanistan the Digital Economy Bill might not be the top priority in this election. Apparently however, it’s important enough to railroad into the statue book with controversial amendments being added days before becoming law. Watching the passage of the bill was an eye-opening experience….

Everyone should watch a parliamentary debate on something they know about, finance, shipbuilding whatever. See how gvt “works”. #debill

@tonywhitmore on Twitter

This law was not made the way I expected law to be passed. What I expected was neatly summed up by Cameron Neylon:

Representative democracy bases its existence on the assumption that the full community can not be effectively involved in an informed and considered criticism of proposed bills and that it is therefore of value to both place some buffer between raw, and probably ill informed public opinion, and actual decision making. This presumes that MPs, particularly party spokespersons take the time to become expert on the matter of bills they represent.

Instead what I witnessed in debates in the House of Commons was a scarily ill-informed, rushed mess which was typified when it emerged that the “Minister for Digital Britain”, who is in charge of this travesty thought that the IP in “IP address” stands for Intellectual Property

There were MPs who “got it” from all parties, exemplified by the Labour back-bencher Tom Watson but only the Lib Dems voted against the bill as a party and even then, many did not turn up to vote!

I am not angry because I file-share illegal files. I do not. Copyright violation is already an offence. As that well-known bastion of communist hippies, the Telegraph, says:

In the past the lawyers had to go after the infringers, with actual proof. Remember being innocent until proven guilty? That’s out now. Now, the holder of the internet account (Mum, Dad, Granny and the small business that can’t afford the legal fees) will be held to account for what happens over their connection.

Aside from the eye-watering insight into how law is made, I’m cross for a number of reasons:

  • It won’t do what it tries to do, The Telegraph again:

    ” In April last year, Sweden’s internet traffic took a dramatic 30 per cent dip as the country’s new anti-file sharing law came into effect. Before this, Sweden, the home of the Pirate Bay, had been a hotbed of illegal trade in movies and music.

    But several months later traffic levels started to surpass the old levels. Consultancy firm Mediavision found that the accessing of illegally shared movies, TV shows and music simply recovered. But there was one crucial difference. Much of the internet traffic was now encrypted.”

  • It will make running a wifi hotspot a massive headache Small cafes have to decide whether to try to be ISPs or be responsible for copyright infringement on their hotspots and use technological measures to prevent abuse. Good luck finding workable “technological measures” that don’t massively restrict legal use of the internet!
  • It will have a chilling effect on free speech The Bill has a clause that will allow “the secretary of state for business to order the blocking of “a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright” (via The Guardian). It has some safe-guards but there is concern that sites like WikiLeaks (which recently broadcast leaked video footage of American Pilots firing on innocent people including Reuters journalists) could be banned. ISPs will be worried about court costs which means even the threat of a ban will often get pages removed.

So if you’ve made it through this far, I’m hoping you agree with some of what I’m saying. So what can we do? A number of things:

  1. Join the Open Rights Group who campaigned against this fiasco.
  2. Find out about your local candidates. For example, which way did they vote on the Digital Economy Bill or did they not even bother to show up for work?
  3. Share info about the candidates with other people who care about internet freedom.
  4. What else? I’m not sure – I’m half tempted to wander down my local high street (Winchester) handing out leaflets summarising this blog entry and pointing out what one of the local candidates (Martin Tod) is a founder member of ORG.

If you have better ideas, let me know in the comments….