Thursday, 28 July 2011

Be worried about the Web

The Telegraph technology section today reports on a legal decision thatforces BT to block access to a copyright breaking web site.

It may not matter to social freedom if young master Chav can’t download a free film, and we know the Web is already censored for pedophile and extreme terrorism/criminal material , but as far as I know up to now it has only affected minority material that many would agree is unwanted and overtly criminal. Some people, like me, may not agree that any censorship is ever justified or useful, but I’m prepared to concede to what I perceive as a majority view.  But this judgment is a landmark, as far as I know we have never had a site ban or Web censorship imposed on civil or commercial grounds and deliberately designed to support a commercial market sector.

To quote one paragraph  
“ Today's order, a first under section 97a of the the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, will be seen as a heavy blow to ISPs' long-held defence on infringement that they act as a "mere conduit" and cannot be expect to enforce copyright holders' rights.”

I see two issues here. One is the expansion of the principle of making a service provider ISP or company actively enforce laws, a precedent well established by, for example making landlords responsible for smoking enforcement, but one applied this way could easily be expanded to make your electricity provider responsible for preventing your ‘overuse’ of electricity or justify inspection of the contents of mail and parcels.

The other, and even more serious issue, is that this is just one step nearer banning web sites that the authorities claim will encourage criminality or stir public dissent. In the light of recent anti right-wing * sentiment from government and press I see this as another part of a multi-pronged pincer movement designed to emasculate the Web and squash social dissent.

There is an addon here that might be useful in the future.

*I know it’s not actually right-wing, I’m using their knee-jerk shorthand.

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