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

The new UK coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has set out its policy priorities on civil liberties.  Included within the agreement between the two coalition partners, drawn up last week-end, are two important pledges which will affect the rights and freedoms of Internet users.


THe UK coalition government agreement has specific implications for the Digital Economy Act which could mean that  implementation of the DE  Act is contrary to their  stated policy.


These pledges are  to  end the storage of internet and email records without good reason  and to protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.


The first pledge regarding storage of Internet and email records refers to the EU Data Retention Directive and its UK implementation. It's worth reminding ourselves that the

EU Data Retention directive was rammed the European Parliament by the UK Presidency under the Tony Blair Labour governement, against the judgement  of the ALDE (Liberal) rapporteur  and the civil liberties committee.


It does imply a review of policy on data retention and as such, this statement within the policy priorities of the new UK coalition government is likely to be seen as a positive move.


The pledge on storage of  Internet data  could  have implications for the Digital Economy Act  and its  3-strikes/graduated response copyright enforcement policy. Why? Because the storage of users' web activity records is in fact not mandated under the Data Retention Directive but  will be necessary in order for the broadband providers to fulfil their role in the enforcement of copyright. 


 The second pledge  - protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury - is relevant to the 3-strikes/graduated response measures in the Digital Economy Act.  I  think it has been put there for a different reason, because there is a lot of debate within the UK judicial community about trial by jury and whether a jury can ever be dispensed with in for example, technically complex trials.


However,  the whole concept of 3-strikes/graduated response is intended to dispense with the need for a court process in the application of a sanction against an Internet user.  3-strikes is a system of private justice, applied by industry, with no court involved at all. This was the core of the Amendment 138 conflict in the EU Telecoms Package ( please see my extensive coverage of the EU Telecoms Package if you are unfamiliar with it.)


Yet, the freedom that the court process should protect here is freedom of speech on the Internet. Punishing people by suspending their Internet access for a period of time, as proposed under the DE Act, would prevent people from accessing their rights to free speech in the digital environment. Similarly, ordering the blocking of websites, which is also a provision in the DE Act,  could have serious implications for free speech.

It is arguable that the protection of this  historic freedom through the defence of trial by jury should be maintained.


The pledge of the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government to protect trial by jury is an important one for Internet users.



Text of the  Conservative-Liberal Democrat deal on LibDem Voice


A printable version  of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat deal supplied by the BBC

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) Internet liberties: are they safe under new UK coalition? 14 May 2010







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