Government File-Sharing Move Could Cut Off Entire Households

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The UK government has taken Internet copyright-protection out of Ofcom’s hands, and is rushing through measures that could cut off everyone at an address

File sharers in the UK could have internet access for their whole household suspended. New government proposals would bypass a planned Ofcom consultation and enact swift retribution for those persistent copyright-infringers.

Privacy advocates have criticised a government announcement that called for feedback on a swifter, tougher regime than that originally proposed in the Digital Britain report. Tthe forthcoming Digital Economy Bill could allow more drastic action against file-sharers including suspending their internet access.

The government said that it was considering actions that would include forcing ISPs to take action against “repeat infringers” which could include blocking access to download sites, reducing broadband speeds or even “temporarily” suspending an individual’s internet access.

Methods to respond to the issue of file-sharing and “piracy” were outlined int the recent Digital Britain report, but now it appears – potentially due to industry lobbying by record and film companies – that the timescale outlined in the report were not fast enough for some parties.

“Previously, it had been proposed that Ofcom would undergo a detailed process in order to ascertain that technical measures were required,” the government stated. “With this approach, the earliest that measures could come into play was during 2012. The Government has now reached the view that, if action was deemed necessary, this might be too long to wait given the pressure put on the creative industries by piracy. The new ideas outlined today would potentially allow action to be taken earlier.”

In an explanatory statement on the issue, the government appeared to admit that any policy of suspension would have to be aimed at an entire household as it would be very difficult to manage cutting off one individual in particular.

“This does not necessarily mean that suspension would be used – this step would obviously be a very serious sanction as it would affect all members of a household equally, and might disrupt access to other communications, so it should be regarded as very much a last resort,” the government said.

It is also not clear at this stage how the government would seek to police banning a single file-sharers in a student house for example with multiple occupants and potentially multiple connections or a halls or residence for example.

“Accordingly a thorough examination of the proportionality and effectiveness of the measure (as with any of the other measures) would have to be undertaken before ISPs would be required to implement it, even if the decision to move to technical measures is taken. As ever we would need to ensure any such measure fully complied with both UK and EU legislation,” the government stated.

Commenting on the government consultation and the potential ban on file-sharing house-holds internet access, the recently created UK Pirate Party said that the government had bowed to industry pressure.


“Today, the Government has moved the goalposts for the consultation. They have finally admitted that, as we suspected, their plans do include cutting off internet access for whole families if one member of that family shares files, in stark contrast to Gordon Brown’s recently stated aim of “universal connectivity to broadband”,” the group said in a blog posting. “This is a massive announcement that threatens far more people than before, yet it has been hidden away in an update to a consultation document. Yet again the Government have done exactly what the big media cartel has told them. There is still no hint of a real discussion on the rights and wrongs of file sharing, or that the strong arguments in favour of legalistion will be given fair consideration.”

The deadline for comments on the consultation is the 29 September which the government claims is an extension to the original plan but which the Pirate Party said was too short a time to consider such a complex issue. “We are only to be given 5 weeks to respond to this major announcement and defend our right to justice, a fair trial, and to defend the principle that collective punishments are wrong, despite the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills having a commitment to 12 week minimum consultation periods.”

Also commenting on the issue, the UK ISP Association criticised the plan to potentially cut off internet users. “ISPA is disappointed by the proposal to force ISPs to suspend users’ accounts. ISPs and consumer groups consider disconnection of users to be a disproportionate response, a view that was recently supported by the European Parliament,” the group said.

ISPA secretary general Nicholas Lansman added that the group was also disappointed by the government’s decision to change the parameters of the original consultation around file-sharing. “ISPA is committed to working with members, rights holders and government to reduce unlawful filesharing over P2P networks and will be responding formally to this consultation. ISPA is disappointed that the Government has chosen to take action to amend an open consultation before most stakeholders have had an opportunity to comment on the original proposals.”