Colin.Guthr.ie Illegitimi non carborundum

7Apr/102

The Digital Economy Bill Will Increase Terrorism

OK, so I wanted a catchy title. It got you reading though right? In order to maintain my credibility, I will justify this link, but firstly I want to talk a little bit about something that is not actually (directly) related to the world of Open Source, but it does affect the "little guy" and the independents in the same way that e.g. Software Patents affect the FOSS movement.

Over the last fee weeks and months there has been growing concern about the reforms proposed by in the Digital Economy Bill which is going today for a third reading in the House of Commons (UK Parliament).

This legislation as it stands is quite frankly horribly Draconian in it's approach and makes a mockery of the legal system's overarching principle of the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

But before I talk about the content of the bill itself, I have to write about the rather interesting event that took place yesterday in concerning the second reading.

Twittersphere/Public Engagement

On Twitter, a medium I quite often ridicule but still watch and occasionally participate with curious interest (I feel our ability to be hypocritical is what separates us humans from the animals :p) we saw a world-wide trend for the tag #debill. Looking at the results flow in during the Parliamentary debate broadcast live on BBC Parliament was very surprising for me. Sure, I expect people to be online discussing every nuance of the latest #drwho as it aired on Saturday. It's a nerdy show (I like it!) and it appeals to lots of people who are part of the "nu media" generation, so it's no surprise that the two mediums converge. But watching BBC Parliament and having a "twitstorm" of comment regarding it was, for me at least, the first time I've seen such public participation in politics for a long long time.

Politicians are often lamenting on voter apathy, but this showed that there is real interest in the political process when the process truly engages our interest. Ultimately I vote in the politician I believe will do the best job for me and those people and causes I care about. That's why I vote. I don't want to have a referendum on every contentious issue. I don't have the time to read the EU constitution and make an informed judgement on it's contents and the legal ramifications therein. I'm have neither the qualifications nor the time to deal with this. That's why my tax money goes towards paying people who are (or at least are supposed to be) qualified and do have the time. Having referendums usually means that the verbal diarrhoea that is spouted by the tabloid press often has major sway in decision making. I certainly do not want that. But it truly dismays me to see what went on in the chamber yesterday. Time after time, politicians stood up and lamented on the way this bill had been pushed through in the wash (the time period before parliament is dissolved before a general election) without proper scrutiny and without full disclosure (several MPs were not even able to read the amendments before the second reading!!), but then went on to say, "but I'll support it". Sorry? Excuse me? What? WHAT? If this is democracy in action, I feel sick.

This debate attracted tens of thousands of people to follow and debate a very important matter for the future of Britain's economy and society. It attracted many young people who had not before taken any interest in politics to listen and debate the issues. This was a real opportunity to engage the young and the apathetic. To make sure they valued and used their vote in the coming election. This is the generate that discuss everything with everyone. For each person involved, their opinions and concerns would have reached five more people. This was social media primed and ready. And what happened? Everyone involved said that the process was flawed but they still carried on with it? This is wrong, wrong, wrong. If the process if flawed, throw it out and start again. It doesn't matter what you are doing, that is the only outcome that can be honourably and morally supported. Time after time, it was stated that if they don't support this flawed procedure it would be tantamount to authorising illegal file sharing.... excuse me? How exactly? Due process not followed, start again. How does that say to anyone: "It's OK to download stuff in violation of the creators copyright"? It doesn't. Anyone who thinks it does is either stupid or has other agendas and thinks we, the public, are stupid and they can get away with this approach.

Sharing is Bad m'kay?

So on to the bill itself. There are many things I've read about the bill that are disagreeable to just about everyone except large media companies who want to protect the status quo. I don't deny that file sharing is something that needs to be more closely regulated - that doesn't mean I support an outright ban. It's pretty accepted that a degree of piracy actually encourages paid consumption. Microsoft secretly loves a degree of piracy as it locks in more people to their walled garden ecosystem. While I don't have any directly figures, the people I know who file share are also some of the largest consumers of paid media content. In order to support the "creative industries" (i.e. the economy) which is a question that must be when analysing any part of this bill, we have to look at how society works and how to encourage legitimate consumption of media. To encourage things in this way we need to stop assuming that the default stance of prohibition and punitive responses to accusations are the right way to go. There are tens of thousands of people scrambling to be part of the creative industry - ways to encourage this are critical and that means thinking about the little guys, not just the incumbent, dominant corporations that have a significant interest in maintaining the status quo.

Virtually everyone in the UK who owns a personal media player (e.g. an iPod, an iRiver, most mobile phones and that one guy who has a Zune), has infringed copyright by converting a CD they own to some other format - e.g. MP3. This is morally acceptable to approximately 100% of people, but yet it is copyright infringement. How many people have lent a DVD or Blu-Ray to a friend or invited friends over to watch a film? Have you ever read the disclaimer at the start of a movie? Sharing is Bad m'kay?

The rhetoric about supporting the creative industries is just that, rhetoric. If they really cared about supporting a digital economy they'd be looking at things with unbiased, fresh and open minds.

Theft

MP after MP stood up and talked about theft. I cannot think of a single example they gave that constituted theft. They are using this term incorrectly and it is biased towards the goals they want to achieve. It is simply not acceptable that they are deliberately skewing the debate via this technique. Theft means denying someone of property. If I break into your house and steal your coffee table, it's theft. If I break into your house and bring power tools and wood, then diligently make an exact replica of your coffee table then it's copyright infringement (assuming the table is a copyrighted work). And it's making a mess and loud noises probably too. But it's NOT theft. To call it theft just shows the complete ignorance of the matter being discussed or it shows that other agendas are taking priority over their responsibilities to debate and discuss things without prejudice. I feel I've had my democratic right stolen from me. No wait... not stolen, violated!

Pipes

The "Internet" is also being seen as a single thing. It's not. It's a myriad of different protocols and services all running on one pipe. The Internet is actually very similar in concept to electricity. I have an electricity supply to my house, using this generic resource I can plug in lamps, ovens, fridges, heating and safety equipment. I can also power my computer. And in a similar way my Internet supply allows me to access my Facebook photos from my digital photo frame, I can watch TV over iPlayer, I can browse the world wide web, I can read emails and I can share files. If I am accused of file sharing and I cannot prove my innocence, this bill proposes that I will have my Internet supply stopped. Excuse me? My whole internet supply? Why not my electricity supply? The Internet is a generic resource, just like electricity. I used the internet to share files, but I also used electricity. Hell in the old days I use electricity to record a record to a tape it's copyright infringement and electricity allowed me to do it! Why is it that my whole Internet supply is being restricted and not my whole electricity supply? I cannot see why one of these drivers for the copyright infringement is being chosen over the other? Why not just exclude me from the small subsection of the Internet that I used to do this bad thing? Oh, because it's possible to encrypt content and tunnel data via proxies and generally hide what you are doing if you are that way inclined. You can't achieve this technically with any degree of certainty, so you just ban the whole lot? I can use electricity for illegal acts just as I use the internet, you can't exclude me technically from using electricity for illegal things, but no-one would even consider turning off power as a punishment.

And this could turn out to be a serious problem. While I believe it's an inevitable consequence of over regulation in any medium, this legislation as proposed will generally foster the use of encryption technologies. The protocols that are quite open and available to DPI (deep packet inspection) will become locked down and very difficult to monitor. The general population will have more knowledge about encrypting and easier access to encryption systems. Information that our security services can snoop quite easily just now will become much, much harder to deal with. Disorganised groups of would be terrorists will be able to organise themselves with a greater degree of privacy. While this is something that will happen anyway, encouragement in this area is hardly likely to please the guys over at DARPA. Now this isn't really a major point of my article but I had to justify the catchy subject somehow.

So back to the main point, the punitive mechanisms here are just fundamentally wrong. Almost everyone accesses the internet via router these days so almost every house becomes an ISP, responsible for dishing out access to laptops, PVRs, STBs, phones, photo frames and desktop machines.... and toasters and fridges and whatever else is "Internet enabled" tomorrow. While those on the outside could potentially prove that some copyright infringement happened on my pipe, the could not prove who within the pipe is responsible. Therefore the owner of the pipe is held liable. That's basically everyone in the UK being held liable as an ISP. And if I as an ISP allowed, it why is my upstream ISP not equally liable? The technical process here is simple too ambiguous to lay any groundwork for sensible action. The principles need to be rethought and better drafted.

Shining stars

I could talk about other parts of the bill at length, but all in all it's not worth it. The third reading is today and there is little time to wax lyrical. There were some shining stars present, Tom Watson and Fiona Mactaggart were two excellent examples and I thoroughly support them in what they said. Keep up the good work.

David Cameron was yesterday talking about "listening to the ignored". Well here is your chance David. Why not listen to the tens of thousands of people who are up in arms about this and are being completely ignored. Take a principled stand and shoot down this bill. If your party gets power at the General Election (and to be honest I really don't know who I want in power right now - they all look like pretty miserable options), then all you'll do is moan about this bill when it all goes wrong anyway. So why support it? Take a stand on principle and throw it out. If you do get power, do it right and that way you'll get all the praise if it goes well.... though you'll also get all the blame if it goes wrong which is why I guess your party is supporting it with one hand while punching it with the other.

Democracy in action. I feel so much more apathetic now that I did yesterday.

I think that one twitterite got it right yesterday when he said: "Excellent, a bill proposed by the unelected, debated by the ignorant and voted on by the absent. #debill"

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