Government Warned Over “Ill Defined” File-Sharing Response


Parliament’s select committee warns that the government’s strategy for tackling illegal file-sharing may be too heavy-handed

Plans put forward in the government’s Digital Economy Bill which could see persistent file-sharers cut-off from the Internet have been criticised by the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights for being too broad and lacking clarity.

Released late last week, the committee’s report, “Legislative Scrutiny: The Digital Economy Bill”, examines the aspects of the bill designed to tackle illegal file-sharing to test their possible impact on the human rights of UK citizens. The report cites concerns from ISPs about so-called “technical measures” they may be forced to take against customers deemed to be persistent file-shares which could include cutting off their Internet connection.

“We do not believe that such a skeletal approach to powers which engage human rights is appropriate. There is potential for these powers to be applied in a disproportionate manner which could lead to a breach of Internet users’ rights to respect for correspondence and freedom of expression,” the report states.

The committee’s main concern appears to be that the government has failed to clarify exactly what measures ISPs may be compelled to take. “Illegal file-sharing is itself a breach of important rights, but the concern we have with this Bill is that it lacks detail,” said Andrew Dismore MP, chair of the committee. “It has been difficult, even in the narrow area we have focussed on, to get a clear picture of the scope and impact of the provisions.”

Dismore added that the Internet is continually evolving and legislators should be wary of creating reactionary legislation. “The Internet is constantly creating new challenges for policy-makers but that cannot justify ill-defined or sweeping legislative responses, especially when there is the possibility of restricting freedom of expression or the privacy of individual users,” he said.

In November last year, the government announced it’s intention to push ahead with plans to implement a two-stage strategy to combat illegal file-sharing, which Lord Mandelson announced in October, consisting of an escalating series of sanctions.

The plan to combat illegal file-sharing has been criticised by ISPs including the boss of TalkTalk Charles Dunstone who announced in January that his company may choose instead to fight the government in court, if his lobbying fails and that his company would “consider all its options” should the file-sharing clauses in the Digital Economy Bill go through.

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