Thursday, November 26, 2009

Internet Cutoff Laws

From the EU Observer 24-11-09:

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU telecoms chief Viviane Reding has warned that the European Commission would take action against Spain if the government moves to cut the internet access of content pirates.

"Repression alone will certainly not solve the problem of internet piracy; it may in many ways even run counter to the rights and freedoms which are part of Europe's values since the French Revolution," information society commissioner Reding told a conference of the Spanish Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT) in Barcelona telecoms on Monday.

Viviane Reding has warned that internet cut-off runs counter to EU telecoms law

"If Spain cuts off internet access without a procedure in front of a judge, it would certainly run into conflict with the European Commission," she said.

This month, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, representing the member states, came to an agreement on a wide-reaching package of telecoms laws that included a provision that outlawed internet access cut-off without an official procedure.

Some internet civil libertarians feared at the time that the language in the agreement was still too soft to prevent such laws, but it appears the commission has taken the ball and is running with it.

"The new internet freedom provision now provides that any measures taken regarding access to and use of services and applications must always respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens," Ms Reding reminded the Spanish CMT.

Apart from the obvious fact that Europe has never had anything resembling common values either before or after the French Revolution (a long period of bloodthirsty tyranny, a kind of proto-communism, which it rapidly became clear was not going to work, to the extent that on several occasions a return to absolute monarchy seemed a better bet), the values held by the EU are not good, and are not what she would like us to think they are. On the other hand, she defends the idea that only a judge can decide to cut off your connection, which is as it should be.

El País reports the same news this way:

El dicho manido "cambiarlo todo para que nada cambie" se escenificó hoy en Estrasburgo. El Parlamento Europeo dio luz verde hoy a la controvertida directiva que regula el acceso a Internet. Al final no hubo sorpresa, y la enmienda pactada el 5 de noviembre entre el Consejo y la Eurocámara sobre la regulación de las restricciones a la conexión a la Red, sin necesidad de una procedimiento judicial previo, fue aprobada casi por unanimidad con 510 votos a favor, 40 en contra y 24 abstenciones.

The bolded line says that the decision by the EU Parliament was to allow countries to cut people off from the internet without any judicial procedure, not at all what Miss Reding was suggesting.

La Razón (which has since removed the article) is not happy that each country will be allowed to interpret the reasons for cutting people off and the process by which it is done in its own way. The paper mentions the highly restrictive laws passed in France, and just recently in Britain, but not the proposed law in Spain. It cites the text (I can't find a link to the complete text) agreed by the Parliament as saying that such measures must be 'necessary and proportionate', that their must be a 'fair procedure', and that the defendant must be heard. Which means a campaign to whip up a storm about whatever they want us to fear and a bureaucrat with a clipboard and a stopwatch who will give you five minutes before ticking the box he had intended to from the start. No need for a magistrate, no defence, no justice, no problem.

With regard to the new internet law in Britain, Boing Boing has this (and more, follow the link) to say, and he seems to know what he's talking about:

The British government has brought down its long-awaited Digital Economy Bill, and it's perfectly useless and terrible. It consists almost entirely of penalties for people who do things that upset the entertainment industry (including the "three-strikes" rule that allows your entire family to be cut off from the net if anyone who lives in your house is accused of copyright infringement, without proof or evidence or trial)

So it's bad. £50,000 fines if someone in your house is accused of filesharing. A duty on ISPs to spy on all their customers in case they find something that would help the record or film industry sue them (ISPs who refuse to cooperate can be fined £250,000).

But that's just for starters. The real meat is in the story we broke yesterday: Peter Mandelson, the unelected Business Secretary, would have to power to make up as many new penalties and enforcement systems as he likes.

In Brussels it’s all about power, of course. And in Spain, at least, it’s the latest in a series of concessions to the SGAE. Or, more accurately, of kowtowing to a few superannuated singers and second-rate actors who constantly whine that people don’t buy their work and so must be forced to pay for it anyway. The SGAE is the pseudo-private arts union/quango that inter alia lobbies to defend intellectual property rights and administers the royalty money that comes in from indirect sources. I’m a member of it, in fact, but I’m a writer and the government doesn’t listen to us (we don’t appear on the television enough).

They have recently persuaded the government to put a specific tax on any object which can be used for copying anything which might support someone else’s intellectual property- computers, photocopiers, MP3/4’s, e-books, CD’s and DVD and a number of other things. You have to pay it whenever you buy any of these objects and it goes to the SGAE who do things with it according to arcane rules which don't appear to include me.

This is not about child pornography or terrorism. It's about politics, as usual, and (once-)fashionable actors and singers and their demands, and such things, for our leaders, are much more important than basic freedoms, judicial guarantees and like trivia.

It is right that people should be prevented from gaining financial benefit, and causing financial harm to others, by claiming as their own work which is someone else's, but that is very different from copying something and selling it cheap to someone who would not have paid the price the creator was asking. And very different again is copying something to share it freely with friends, which is like lending a book or inviting people round to listen to music or admire a new painting. But some people who have power because others listen to them have made a fuss, to protect their income and their sense of self-importance, and that is a more important reason for controlling the internet than child-molesters and terrorists. Not that they won't try to control the internet anyway, it must be terrifying for those who want to rule over us, but they can't think beyond the next morning's headline, and it will be the egos of aging crooners that will cut us off, not the desire to protect us from criminals. Sad, really. Fortunately it's quite easy to ignore all this. All they want is the headlines, the result doesn't matter to them.

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