A report in PC Pro suggests that BT and other UK mobile operators are blocking The Pirate Bay website. But the Pirate Bay home page currently carries a political campaign opposing the Telecoms Package. Can one argue that this is political censorship?
This article has been amended 25 April 2009: The campaign has been taken down but was current when the story was originally written. The point of the article remains true, that political censorship could easily be the unintended consequence of ISP blocking.
The Pirate Bay home page this week has replaced the site's own logo with one for a campaign to oppose the revision to EU telecoms law known as the Telecoms Package. The campaign links to a page which calls the Telecoms Package a ‘monstrous law' and explains some of the issues to users. BT has an interest in the outcome of the Telecoms Package, as do all the other operators. The block on The Pirate Bay by BT and other UK mobile broadband operators was reported on the IT website PC Pro.
A coalition of telecoms operators (of which,
I must point out, BT is not a member, but Vodafone is) has been lobbying heavily to get in the a provision similar to the one now on the table, which permits ‘limits' or restrictions on access to content services and applications. It will legally permit operators to block access to services. (See my articles on the AT&T amendments and ‘limitations' in the Telecoms Package.)
I am going to suggest that BT, and other operators blocking The Pirate Bay, also block citizens access to this political campaign and to information which they are democratically entitled to - and moreover, it is information which is not currently appearing in the UK media.
The block follows immediately from a verdict last week by a Swedish court against the four men who operate The Pirate Bay website. The court said they were guilt of assisting in the making available of copyrighted content. The UK media licked the entertainment industry PR spoon and publicly scalped the four Swedish men. Four days later there is a report on UK technical website that BT and other mobile broadband operators have blocked The Pirate Bay.
It is apparently in compliance with a new "voluntary" code. However, the code explicitly does not cover peer-to-peer communications, and neither does it permit the blocking of political campaigns, so it has to be questioned how such a block can be justified. It is a poor omen of things to come if Britain permits this block to continue, and provides evidence if such were needed, why the Telecoms Package provisions to limit the Internet are damaging for democracy.
The actual text in the Telecoms Package - a draft which has been secretly agreed in backrooms in Brussels, and pushed by the UK and French governments - says "conditions limiting access to and/or use of services and applications" . This text legally permits operators to block in the way that BT is allegedly doing, and neither regulator nor citizens will have any power to take action against the company for it.
The question must certainly be raised as to whether this counts as a form of political censorship. Either way, it is a pointer to the future where blocking of political content can happen at the discretion of a telecommunications network operator, if the current draft of the Telecoms Package is carried by the European Parliament.
Read the PC Pro report on the block on The Pirate Bay by BT and other UK mobile broadband operators
See the blocked campaign which opposes the Telecoms Package - telekompaketet.se