Last night the British parliament enacted a thoroughly regressive piece of legislation. Called The Digital Economy Bill (DEBill), it is ostensibly designed to — amongst other things — prevent internet file-sharing. In fact, what it actually does is allow large corporations to legally victimise individuals based on nothing more than suspicion. Once again the representatives of the people have sold them out to appease the power of private capital.
And people say the coming election actually matters? Fact is, who ever gets into government, it’s Big Business who stays in power.
According to DEBill, corporations are permitted to monitor the nation’s internet connections and demand that anyone suspected of filesharing be disconnected. Yes, warning letters must be sent out first, but the fact remains that there is no actual burden of proof involved. If your IP address is spoofed, or WiFi network hacked, or computer compromised by a custom trojan*, say goodbye to your net connection. If your 14 year old kid continues to download music without your knowledge, say goodbye to your net connection. If you share your own home movies or music with others and can’t prove that it’s your material (in this case there is a burden of proof… but it’s on you; you must take the issue to court at your own cost), say goodbye to your net connection.
And this has happened in a climate where the Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, claims that “[b]roadband is no longer considered a luxury — it has become an essential service delivering social, commercial and economic benefits”. A climate where Gordon Brown insists that “the internet is as vital as water and gas” (hyperbole certainly, but he said it, not the anti-DEBill camp).
So Britain now has a Labour-driven law designed to allow corporations to legally withdraw essential services from individuals on the basis of suspicion of wrongdoing.
But of course it wasn’t just Labour who passed the law. It pretty much had all-party support. The tories were firmly behind it. And while the Liberal Democrats claimed to oppose it, they couldn’t be bothered to show up for the vote, let alone the debate. This is supposed to be the liberal party, the one that in theory would be most opposed to this kind of corporate power grab, and yet less than a third of their MPs were present in parliament to speak or vote against it. While Nick Clegg and his liberal democrats jet around Britain talking like they’re an alternative to the two large parties, their actions tell a somewhat different story.
Politicians are constantly lamenting the perceived public apathy with politics. Young people, they say, are disconnected from the political process. But here we have a bill that’s arguably of particular interest to young people and yet anyone tuning in to watch the proceedings last night would have seen a handful of disinterested and ill-informed MPs in a half-empty room acquiescing to the wishes of big business. If even the professional politicians can’t be arsed to attend a vote on important legislation, is it any wonder nobody else is interested in the bloody process?
UPDATE: It appears that the office of Stephen Timms, Minister for Digital Britain, is under the impression that IP (as in IP address) stands for “Intellectual Property”. I just don’t know what to say about that. Am I the only one who believes that perhaps MPs should actually understand the laws they are passing? That part of their job should be to research things before they legislate on them? Rather than merely being rubber-stamps to the whims of capital? Perhaps that’s why so few MPs showed up to vote… they were too ignorant to grasp the importance of the bill and too damn lazy to do anything about that fact. (via antonvowl on twitter)
* how long before such trojans are maliciously let loose in the wild by script kiddies… carrying a silent payload of a stripped down torrent client and instructions to download the album or movie of the moment?