Against the Digital Economy Bill

As Jon Hicks wrote a few days ago, the House of Lords recently passed the Digital Economy Bill. The bill panders to big players in the music industry is being hurried through without due democratic process, clearly intended to be made law before the election. Unsurprisingly the driving force behind it is Lord ‘Mandy’ Mandelson, the Business Secretary; a powerful but unelected passive-aggressive imposition.

Through the partly Clearleft designed 38 Degrees, I wrote to my local MP, the retiring Des Turner, to present my objections, and to urge him to speak out against rushing through the Digital Economy Bill without due debate and process.

Dear Mr Turner,

I’m writing to you today because I’m very worried that the Government is planning to rush the Digital Economy Bill into law without a full Parliamentary debate.

There are many aspects of this law which hand far too much power to the few, and are designed to bypass any due process, such as a courtroom.

In particular, the law appears contradictory regarding the Government’s stance to providing access to information online. As it stands, a broadband connection used by anybody accused of file sharing three times can be severed whether or not they are convicted of copyright infringement. How is that person then supposed to access vital information provided by local and national Government? The bill reverses the core principles of natural justice by requiring customers to prove their innocence. Being accused is not the same as being convicted.

The law also makes it incumbent upon internet service providers to monitor usage of their customers and provide evidence thereof. Apart from being a severe invasion of privacy and an unreasonable burden upon ISPs, this exactly akin to demanding that telephone companies monitor and record all phone calls on behalf of the Government.

The fact that this law appears to be have driven by demands from large companies within the music and entertainment industries is particularly insidious (I point you to evidence that language used in the law was identical to a proposal by British music industry body the BPI.)

In the House of Lords recently, the Earl of Errol is not wrong when he expressed concern that future amendments to the Bill will not be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny, and that a new clause “will not be subject to any amendment, or discussion and then amendment, by either house. We have no idea what it looks like, and it seems to be an abuse of parliamentary process.”

Those good MPs who remain are getting a hard enough time as it is, and undemocratic laws such as this only serve to exacerbate that opinion. What’s more, I believe the situation surrounding this law has far deeper implications and consequences than some fiddled expenses. If we had a constitution it would be unconstitutional.

As a constituent I am writing to you today to urge you to speak out against this bill, and to ask you to do all you can to ensure the Government doesn’t just rush the bill through and deny us our democratic right to scrutiny and debate.

I haven’t had a reply as yet (it’s only been few days) but his incoming Labour candidate, Simon Burgess, has since spoken out against the Bill:

There are a lot of good intentions contained within the bill but I am concerned that there is potentially too big a slant towards large record companies interests. It is important that the interests of independent musicians, performers and producers are fully represented because at the moment they may find the legislation more of a hindrance than a help. I want to see it delayed, rather than rushed, because it is important to make sure this legislation is of the best possible quality with the widest possible input.

Hopefully Des Turner will repeat this in the House of Commons, although while delaying the Bill is one thing, it’s clear the DEB is in place solely to appease the music industry big boys. A law this far reaching should not be pandering to a single industry (especially one clinging to decades past).

Update

I received a brief reply via email from Mr Turner. Here it is:

Thank you for your e-mail. I will certainly take all of the points you raise into consideration when voting on the individual clauses and amendments of the Bill. I will certainly want to hear what Ministers have to say in response to the various points made in the campaign on this Bill, and know that it is of importance to many people working in the digital economy here in Brighton.

What a shame, then, that Mr Turner didn’t actually vote one way or another on behalf of his constituents.