It was with shock and awe that I read Cory Doctorow's piece on proposed legislation introduced in the United Kingdom last week. This particular set of amendments, wrapped in the so-called Digital Economy Bill, proves without a doubt that truth is stranger than fiction. I urge you to read Cory's take on this, but I'll summarize some of the more troubling aspects:
- If illegal file sharing is suspected (not necessarily proven) within a home, all Internet access to that residence could be terminated and fines of up to £50,000 could be imposed on the household.
- ISPs could be compelled to spy on their own users or face stiff fines and other penalties.
- The UK Business Secretary would be granted the power to modify any aspect of the law without debate, including the definition of new violations and penalties at a whim, essentially turning his position into that of a dictator for all digital communications within the United Kingdom.
[ Think it can't happen here? The you haven't been following the ridiculous debate in Congress over Net neutrality. ]
Needless to say, these are incredibly bad ideas, even coming from a country with an Official Secrets Act. The language in this bill would place corporations in complete control over the Internet in the United Kingdom, answering to nobody but themselves. It's practically a step-by-step guide on how to force your best and brightest to move to another country. The only way this legislation could be worse for U.K. citizens would be if it mandated random hourly beheadings at major shopping areas as a warning to copyright violators.
Why is it that instead of trying to spread availability of high-speed Internet access, significant segments of first-world governments seem bent on doing the opposite? On the other side of the pond, we now have either a primer on how to descend into wanton corporate rule or a stiff warning.
I find it tough to find a middle ground when discussing this with others, especially nontechnical people who don't understand either the ramifications or the technology. On one side is the tinfoil hat, and on the other is a shrug and a "Well, what can you do?" Neither are useful for communicating the need for an open Internet to anyone.
This "war" isn't really about the Internet, though. It's about content. It's about the established corporate entities that own the rights to everything we read, hear, and watch. They are very much entitled to protect those assets and certainly welcome to adapt to the times and deliver that content for a price suitable for the consumer and their bottom line.