Lord Mandelson’s plan to cut off Internet file sharers is under attack from TalkTalk – using the music of Barry Manilow
Service provider TalkTalk has gone on the offensive against a government plan which could cut entire households off the Internet, where there is a suspicion of illegal down-loading.
TalkTalk argues that the plan – included in Digital Britain measures – is unworkable and will hit innocent households, because it is impossible to prove who is to blame for an illegal download.
Internet connections can easily be used for illegal downloading, without the owner’s knowledge or consent, says TalkTalk – and to prove it, sent an Internet security consultant to a street in Middlesex.The engineer used Wi-Fi hi-jacking to download content.
The engineer grabbed Barry Manilow’s hit Mandy, as a cheeky dig at business secretary Lord Peter Mandelson – sometimes referred to as “Mandy”. The witty geek also referenced allegations of Lord Mandelson’s cronyism, by downloading the soundtrack of the 1992 movie Peter’s Friends.
The stunt, reported in blogs on the BBC, took place in The Highway, a residential road in Stanmore, Middlesex.
“Within a couple of hours he [the consultant] had identified 23 wireless connections on the street – more than one-third of the total – which are vulnerable to Wi-Fi hijacking,” the TalkTalk blog stated. “These connections are either completely unsecured (6 percent) or use WEP technology (28 percent) which many users think is secure but is in fact easily hackable by anyone with a laptop computer.”
In August, the government announced a new consultation into direct measures against file-shares which could include cutting off the internet access of their entire household. Critics including a group representing the interests of ISPs were particularly angered by the government’s decision to interrupt a longer term investigation into file-sharing led by communications watchdog Ofcom – which the government said would take too long to respond to the issue.
Some reports have claimed the file-sharing cut-off plan is partly driven by links to Peter Mandelson’s friends, including music industry mogul David Geffen. The pair met during Mandelson’s recent holiday in Corfu – a trip during which Lord Mandelson apparently helped run the government in Gordon Brown’s absence using his Blackberry. A government spokesman confirmed the meeting took place but denied there was any discussion of internet file-sharing.
Commenting on the meeting, Conservative MP David Davies told The Times earlier this year: “It does seem a remarkable coincidence. Peter Mandelson should be forced to reveal the full extent of his meetings with wealthy friends on holiday and, in the name of openness, disclose exactly what they discussed.” The Guardian has speculated that links between Lord Mandelson and Lucian Grainge – chairman of Universal Music – may also have contributed to the new policy.
Fears of mistaken identity in illegal download cases are more than a theory, to be exposed by publicity stunts, according to TalkTalk.
“The risk of innocent people being disconnected is not hypothetical,” said the TalkTalk blog. “Consumer organisations such as Which? have been contacted by hundreds of people who have been wrongly accused of filesharing using a similar method to the one Mandelson is suggesting.”
The service provider said that ultimately the net cut-off plan was basically flawed. “This is why we think the Mandelson scheme is wrong-headed and naïve. The lack of presumption of innocence and the absence of judicial process combined with the prevalence of Wi-Fi hijacking will result in innocent people being disconnected,” the company said.
The record and film industries should respond to illegal downloads by improving legal download channels rather than lobbying politicians to introduce harsh measures. “TalkTalk acknowledges that there is a problem with illegal filesharing and that solutions must be found. First and foremost the content industry must develop new business models to make content more easily available and more affordable,” the company added.
Critics of the cut-off plan also argue that threats of cut-off are difficult to square with moves to make Internet access should be a universal human right, as is now the case in Finland,
Ironically enough, the movie Peter’s Friends was written by Stephen Fry – who has defended file sharing, arguing that the media industry is “doing the wrong thing” in aggressively pursuing file-sharers instead of finding ways to turn file-sharing into more online business.