Thursday, April 22, 2010

UK jails schizophrenic for refusal to decrypt files

From the Register:
"The first person jailed under draconian UK police powers that Ministers said were vital to battle terrorism and serious crime has been identified by The Register as a schizophrenic science hobbyist with no previous criminal record.
His crime was a persistent refusal to give counter-terrorism police the keys to decrypt his computer files...
In September 2001, shortly after his stint as Home Secretary, when he had introduced RIPA, Jack Straw took to the airwaves to defend the powers.
"It was government trying to put in place increased powers so that we could preserve and sustain our democracy against this new kind of threat," he said in a Radio 4 interview.
"We needed to take powers so that we could de-encrypt commercially encrypted e-mails and other communications. Why? Because we knew that terrorists were going to use this."
News that the first person jailed for the offence of not talking in a police interview has been judged no threat to national security and suffers from a mental condition associated with paranoia and a fear of authorities is unlikely to win RIPA Part III new supporters."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Conservative perspective on Digital Economy Act

Being one of the lucky few who live in a marginal constituency I decided to write to David Cameron before the passing of the Digital Economy Act to indicate my concerns and explain I would not support any party in the general election who facilitated the (then) bill going through the wash up process before parliament was dissolved.  I received the following response from James Bull in David Cameron's office yesterday.
"Thank you for contacting us about the Digital Economy Bill. We take what you say on board, and I am happy to respond to your concerns. 

Britain has been made to wait too long for legislation updating the regulatory environment for the digital and creative industries.  We regret that once the Government got around to considering these issues, it did not allocate the sufficient time in the House of Commons for proper legislative scrutiny.  It says a great deal about their support for the creative industries that despite considering many of these issues as far back as 2006 they have only now just brought this piece of legislation forward.

We took the decision to seek to remove those clauses of the Digital Economy Bill that we did not support or that we did not feel received proper legislative scrutiny, while supporting the Bill as a whole. Rejecting the Bill would have been an unacceptable set-back for the important measures it contains.

We support the Bill’s efforts to tackle online copyright infringement. This is an extremely serious issue that costs the creative industries hundreds of millions of pounds each year. We want to make sure that Britain has the most favourable intellectual property framework in the world for innovators, digital content creators and high tech businesses.  Internet piracy also puts consumers at risk, as those who download illegal material increase the likelihood of their machines being attacked by computer viruses, and are exposed to unverified advertising and inappropriate material. 

The measures in the Bill aimed at tackling online copyright infringement received robust scrutiny in the House of Lords. We were concerned about the lack of parliamentary oversight of the original clauses and as such the Bill now has a super-affirmative resolution in it. This means Parliament will debate any order that the Secretary of State lays that would allow people to be disconnected. These measures can also not be introduced for 12 months after the Bill becomes law. This means that we are by no means rushing in to these decisions and that the next Parliament will be able to consider them beforehand.

The measures in the Bill designed to tackle illegal peer to peer file sharing set up a proportionate regime that would lead to people having their internet connection temporarily suspended, but only following public consultation, repeated warnings and due process. It will not, as many have suggested, lead to people being disconnected without an appeal. Even if people are disconnected they will be able to sign up to another ISP immediately without penalty.

While we have no doubt that these measures could have been improved if the Government had allocated time for this Bill to be debated in Committee, blocking these measures in their entirety would have risked hundreds of thousands of jobs in the TV, film, music and sports industries and was therefore not something we were not willing to do.

Conservatives recognise the need to establish a workable system for unlocking the wealth of inaccessible content known as orphan works, but we have consistently stated that in no way should this Bill actually harm content creators.  We were keen to address the problem of people stripping out identifying information from a digital image and wanted to clamp down on this and ensure that the Bill does not encourage such activities. We also wanted specific requirements for a search for the rights holder and a system in place if that rights holder comes forward at a later date. After Government failed to amend the Bill in line with these protections, we insisted that clause 43 be removed from the Bill.

The debate on copyright is not yet over and we will seek to revisit options for a balanced solution as part of a broader update of copyright following the General Election.

Thank you, once again, for getting in touch. I hope my reply was useful.

Yours sincerely,


James Bull
Office of David Cameron"
My reply is below (with 3 typographical errors tidied up).
"Dear James,

Thanks for your response on behalf of David Cameron. I suspect the key things we can agree on are that the regulatory environment for the technology, information and creative industries is not in very good shape and that the debate on copyright is likely to continue.

I don’t agree with your belief that the disconnection of households due to suspected copyright infringement is a proportionate regime. Neither do I accept that the post disconnection appeals process in the Act constitutes due process under UK law.  In addition to countless legal scholars, no less an authority than the European Court of Justice has indicated in dicta (Promusicae case, 2008) that they would likely strike down the kind of disconnection process the Act facilitates. 

I wonder what David Cameron’s illustrious predecessor, Winston Churchill, would have made of the notion of restricting a household’s access to communications, education, employment, livelihood, public services and yes even entertainment, on suspicion that someone associated with that household was suspected of copyright infringement?

You make no mention of the web blocking measures in the Act so I make no assumptions about your perspective of those but I would say, as a matter of principle passing a law in the assumption that the details can be worked out later is not a good idea.  Neither is passing a law which includes damaging provisions because of a desire to get the rest of that bill through. That may be the reality of modern political life but it is not good policymaking practice.

Internet piracy does indeed put consumers at risk and we have run a course at the Open University for several years outlining the nature of this kind of cyber vandalism and crime and what people can do to protect themselves from it.  Mass copyright infringement also has an impact on the creative industries which you state is in the region of hundreds of millions of pounds each year.  In reality we have very little robust empirical economic data to quantify the problem and desperately need more scholarly research in this area to inform policymaking and construct a balanced regulatory environment which will take into account the needs of

  • Creators
  • Economic agents (technology, information and creative industries etc.)
  • Consumers/citizens
Once we have the economic evidence and can do an informed cost benefit analysis of the impact of alternative regulatory regimes on the key sets of stakeholders, then reasonable people may still disagree about where the balance might lie. But at least we can then debate the issues in an informed way rather than on the basis of unsubstantiated claims about the damage to the respective stakeholders.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond. Mr Cameron’s support of the controversial provisions of the Digital Economy Act means I will no longer be considering voting for the Conservative Party in this coming general election.  Given that your party, however, is likely to be in government following the election, I would encourage you and your colleagues to understand that in an information society, the information laws, intellectual property prime amongst them, are the default rules of the road.  Our society and our economy cannot afford the kind of slapdash process that has characterised the passage of the Digital Economy Act and the damaged regulatory structures that emerge from it.

I hope you won’t mind if I make a copy of this correspondence available on my blog,