We learn today that the Government is proposing a tougher stance on internet file-sharing, which would include cutting off repeat offenders from the net. A Department of Business, Innovation and Skills press release said that:
"This would involve an obligation on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take action against individual, repeat infringers - for example by blocking access to download sites, reducing broadband speeds, or by temporarily suspending the individual’s Internet account."
The proposals do not seem to require any judicial decision before punishing internet users. Since when was this OK?
One leading ISP said that they were in favour of tackling illegal file-sharing but that, "This is best done by making sure there are legal alternatives and educating people, writing letters to alleged file-sharers and, if necessary, taking them to court."
There are also concerns that the method of identifying offenders using the IP address of a specific computer may unfairly punish those who share a web connection.
All of this sounds a bit familiar. A French law proposed by President Sarkozy (the one with the pop star wife whose music is doubtless being downloaded by millions of young pirates) is currently being held up somewhere in the legislative machine, following a ruling from the country's constitutional court which found that any removal of internet access would have to be decided by a judge, and not by the proposed 'Hadopi' authority.
Interestingly enough this is also the view of the European Parliament, which is holding the EU's entire telecoms package hostage over the issue. MEPs frantically introduced an amendment guaranteeing the need for a judicial decision before internet access could be cut. Member states were unwilling to accept the amendment and as a result the whole package will now be subject to lengthy negotiations, which will probably last the year.
Now, regular readers will know we're probably not the world's biggest fans of the European Parliament, but it seems that faced with the very disconcerting trajectory our Government appears to be on, we may be forced to rely on it to safeguard our civil liberties and the basic tenet of UK law: that you're innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.