The Closing of the Net  "original and valuable"  Times Higher Education

The UK Parliament has done a 'squalid deal' to ensure  the  Digital Economy Bill  is passed today.  The DEBill is being ramrodded through at the behest of the unelected Minister, Lord Peter Mandelson, for the beneift of his powerful friends in the film and music industries and his party's backers, the big Trade Unions. It has been done with the collusion of 'big media'  (including the BBC). It was absolutely unbelievable to listen to a British Parliament discussing the blocking of websites, and  cutting off people's communications connections.  And with  such a  reprehensible action of this discredited institution, Parliament has shown under the glare of thousands of webcasts, just how it shamefully it can behave.  

 ***This  open letter from IT developers says: Almost universal was the horror and anger at the affront to the democratic process which was unfolding before our eyes.*** 

The fact that a deal has already been agreed between the three main parties was revealed by several MPS, notably Tom Watson, Fiona McTaggart ( who is one of my local area MPs) and John Grogan. Tom Watson called it a 'squalid deal'. The deal appears to consist of the entire Bill minus the 'controversial' clauses. Whereas for the general public, the entire 3-strikes provisions in Clauses 4-17 are 'controversial', the government is limiting it to the website blocking Clause 18, which it has to delay anyway to comply with EU law. So in fact, they want to push the entire Bill through as it is. It also appears that a form of Henry VIII clause has been re-introduced in Clause 46. It is not exactly clear what it does, but it appears to  give the Secretary of State certain powers to re-write parts of the Bill. 

 A number of MPs expressed concern about the process, saying they did not have time to scrutinise the Bill properly.  Fiona McTaggart made a powerful plea that the backbenchers have been excluded. The government's reply was that it has been scrutinised in the House of Lords. This is astonishing, since the House of Commons is the one which represents the people. 

Don Foster, LibDem frontbench, betrayed his membership. He said in response to a question that he would support Clauses 4-17 which are the 3-strikes and technical measures provisions. He said he would not support the Bill with Clause 18 in its current form. 

His position would appear to go  against the wishes of his Party who voted at their recent Spring conference on a motion which condemned the entire Digital Economy Bill.  It remains to be seen how LibDem members and prospective candidates react. His move contradicts his colleagues in the European Parliament, who have worked hard to oppose measures on copyright enforcement like those in the Digital Economy Billl.  

The Conservative position was that they



 support the entire Bill - that is they support the 3-strikes and technical measures and website blocking. The do oppose Clause 43, which is a badly drafted clause on photography/image  copyright, as well as Clause 1 (Ofcom powers) and Clause 29. Peter Luff,  Conservative, showed total disregard of citizens views, saying   the government was right to choose creativity over Internet Freedom. Derek Wyatt called for licencing of ISPs. 

The Conservative position is in fact, untenable. They want to open up BT's ducts to increase competition, but with this law in place, the only competition will be between different types of blockages. 

John Redwood, Fiona McTaggart, Eric Joyce, John Grogan and many others called the process, which concertina's the Bill into just a few hours, shamefull. But the government, and the Conservatives front benches do not seem to care. 

 The government, represented by Harriet Harman, Stephen Timms and Ben Bradshaw, merely presented Lord Mandelson's spin. Ben Bradshaw  dismissed the 20,000 emails from citizens and supported  the power of the Trade Unions. 

Pete Wishart ( Scottish National Party), a former musician,  made a  rabid attack on  'the powerful ISPs and their digital rights friends'. 

Only Eric Joyce understood that the key issue here is about bypassing the court process, when he raised the matter that there should be a court hearing before anyone is sanctioned by being cut off the Internet (which the technical measures will do, in spite of the government spin and its unsupportable reassurances). 

For what it's worth, in my view,  it is our right as citizens to  be told what the deal is. And it is scandalous for Parliament to ride roughshod over citizens' rights in this way. 


ZD Net has a good account of the Digital Economy Bill 'debate' in the House of Commons. 

You can watch a webcast  of the House of Commons debate on the Digital Economy Bill


 This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. 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) Parliament does a squalid deal and  betrays Internet  users 7 April  2010 







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