27 August 2009

UK "Three Strikes": Please Write to Your MP

Yesterday I wrote a quick analysis of the insane U-turn effected by the UK government over "three strikes and you're out". Below I've posted the corresponding letter that I've sent to my MP on the subject. I urge you to do the same if you're a Brit, since it's the only way we have of influencing the situation. I'm not holding my breath waiting for a result, but I feel it's my duty....

I am writing to express my deep disquiet at the UK government's U-turn over disconnecting those accused of sharing copyright materials on the Internet.

For the eminently sane and well-balanced conclusions of Lord Carter and his Digital Britain team, based on many months of hard work, to be thrown away in this manner is extraordinary. In the place of a carefully-considered view that access to the Internet is a right not to be removed lightly, and that doing so on the say-so of media companies would be an inappropriate response to alleged copyright infringement, we now have a diktat from on high that proposes precisely this punishment.

As the indecent haste clearly demonstrates, this has not been thought through.

First, it is completely disproportionate. Cutting off people's Internet connection for allegedly swapping copyright materials is not just, any more than cutting someone's electricity supply would be for watching the TV without a licence, or cutting someone's water supply off would be for brewing illegal spirits.

Secondly, it represents a fundamental assault on due process in this country. If people can be cut off from the most important communication medium of the 21st century on the whim of media companies, who don't even need to prove their accusations in court, then things have reached a pretty sorry state in this country.

Thirdly, the approach won't work from a technical viewpoint. All it means is that the more tech-savvy will start encrypting their traffic; those who can't take this route will simply buy a few huge external hard discs – ones able to hold a quarter of a million songs cost around £50 these days – and swap files personally when they visit their friends.

Fourthly, the idea is at odds with European legislation. Amendment 138 of the Telecoms Package currently being finalised in Europe forbids the cutting off of users without judicial oversight. And that's even before the ISPs start taking legal advice on other ways in which it breaks relevant laws. Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights would probably have something to say about legislation that allows what Viviane Reding has explicitly called a “fundamental human right” (http://opendotdotdot.blogspot.com/2009/05/internet-access-is-fundamental-fight.html) to be taken away so easily.

What's particularly bizarre about this move is that those who will suffer the most are likely to be traditional Labour supporters. For it is the poor who cannot afford to pay for high-priced digital downloads, and may therefore look for material on P2P networks. It is the poor who may well share an Internet across several families using a wifi connection in a block of flats, for example. If one user is accused of swapping copyright materials, several families will be severely disadvantaged – hardly something that fits with Labour's historical mission to help precisely these people.

For all these reasons - assuming this truly is a consultation and not just another rubber-stamping – I urge you to join your colleague, Tom Watson (http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/2009/08/filesharing-revised-consultation/), in passing on to Lord Mandelson and Stephen Timms the comments of myself and others who may write to you on this subject.

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Dee Sobek said...

Well my MP is Ruth Kelly, so holding my breath would probably kill me...

Glyn Moody said...

@Dee@ ah, you have my deepest commiserations...