18 January 2008

No EU Snooping, Danke

Heise online reports on a very bad idea:

If things go the way the Conservative British MEP Christopher Heaton-Harris wants them to, internet providers will be much more closely involved in the battle against copyright infringements. He has introduced a proposal in the European Parliament under which access providers would not only have to install filters on the network side, in order to prevent misuse of their networks for the theft of intellectual property, but would also be obliged to close down Internet access to clients who "repeatedly or substantially" infringe copyright. Content that infringes others' rights would moreover have to be blocked by providers.

As to why it's a bad idea, here's what I've just sent to all my MEPs using the indispensable WriteToThem site:

First, it won't work. Users will simply encrypt their files before sending them, making them completely opaque to content filters. The power of computers is such that this is an easy operation to carry out, and it will become the norm if the above proposal is enacted. Breaking that encryption, by contrast, is very hard, and access providers will be unable to do this in order to inspect the contents.

Secondly, the proposal requires access providers to examine the full traffic flows of everyone. The scope for abuse is enormous. Most people do not encrypt sensitive information that they include in emails, for example. Sometimes Web transmissions are not properly encrypted, allowing sensitive information such as credit card details or health information to be read. If this proposal were enacted, and access providers were required to monitor all traffic, it would be tempting – and easy – for criminals to infiltrate such companies and extract sensitive data.

Finally, there is a deeper discussion needed about whether sharing copyright material is actually bad for the owners of that material. There is growing evidence that people who download such material go on to make more content purchases than those who do not. This is not really surprising: the downloaded materials are effectively free publicity, and a way to discover new content of interest. When people have the chance to sample and explore new content, they end up buying things that they would never have thought of purchasing, bringing more money to the content owners. It might be that the content industries should really be encouraging this kind of free marketing: more research is needed at the very least.

If you feel strongly about this - and you should - perhaps you'd like to write a quick note to your MEPs.

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