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The Liberal Democrat party in the UK last night issued an official statement of policy on file-sharing and the Internet. It is opposed to website blocking, and wants a full debate on the matter of anti-filesharing measures such as graduated response/3-strikes. But it fails to address the key issue of presumption of innocence, fought for by colleagues in the European Parliament.

The statement, from the Liberal Democrat front bench - that is, the Party leadership - comes in response to Party members who have protested vocally about the mis-named Digital Economy Bill, and provisions within the Bill - now about to go through the House of Commons - to block websites and introduce graduated response/3-strikes in the UK. It puts the LibDems in the lead as far as establishing a policy in respect of the Internet and copyright enforcement. The statement is strong in opposing website blocking and calling for debate , but it also has some critical omissions, as Party members have pointed out already.

The statement says: |

We, therefore, do not believe that measures to address site blocking can reasonably be included in the Digital Economy Bill and we will not support any such measures .. .

The Liberal Democrats are unconvinced of the merits of measures such as

temporary account suspension or bandwidth throttling.

The LibDem frontbench statement on the Digital Economy bill further calls for a full scrutiny of the Digital Economy Bill after the UK election. This is important, because the Labour government is trying to rush the Bill through before the election, without scrutiny, in order to cover up its disrespect for fundamental rights and to give its supporters in the entertainment industries what they ask for:

the controversial parts of the Bill will need to be scrutinised and voted upon by the next parliament before they can be brought into law. Liberal Democrats MPs would not support these sections of the Bill without this process.

There are several omissions in the statement:

The LibDem leadership seem to think that they have 'improved the Bill. In particular, they seem to think that in its current state"any process to disconnect users explicitly assumes their innocence until they are proven guilty".

This is simply NOT TRUE. The Bill provides for an appeals process, and users have to pay to lodge their appeal. It was openly stated in the House of Lords that the payment was to discourage appeals. because they don't want too many people to appeal. They want people to pay a fine, or be cut off the Internet. That is what was debated in the House of Lords.

Furthermore, the appeals process contradicts EU law, in spirit if not in the letter. The EU Telecoms Package includes a provision that users must have a 'prior, fair and impartial procedure' and the 'presumption of innocence shall be guaranteed'. An appeal, which you may choose to ask for, after you've been told the sanction, and which you have to pay for, does not seem to comply.

Liberal Democrat MEPs fought hard for this provision in the European Parliament.

The LibDems do not fully address the fact that the detail of any graduated response regime will be determined NOT by Parliament but by Ofcom. So, these processes will all be decided by Ofcom, in secret, working with the BPI, which already has an appointment in the diary to discuss it. (See my previous article on the leaked BPI email) . This is a real problem with the Bill. Parliament does not really know what is going to happen, so it is very difficult to debate it. A nice trick on the part of the Bill's drafters.

The legal jargon is that the detail in not on the face of the Bill.

It doesn't deal with the provision for the government to take over the Domain Name registry. This arguably has a benign intent, but in fact is one of the most dangerous provisions, because the government could in theory obtain power over all UK registered websites.

The LibDem statement accepts the entertainment industry viewpoint that jobs will be lost. The economic issue at stake are complex, and just to take the view of one industry, is a mistake. Jobs and businesses will be lost in the Internet industry, if this Bill goes ahead, and many creators will lose the chance they have to promote their work, whilst the industrial control exercised by large and wealthy corporations and individuals will be supported by the State. The LibDem leadership should consider that.

The full LibDem front bench statement on the Digital Economy Bill is published by Bridget Fox.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) Liberal Democrats frontbench opposes website blocking http://www.iptegrity.com 27 March 2010


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.  

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