Digital Economy Bill stitch-up

With any luck, this is the last piece of duff legislation in a long line of duff legislation passed by this partially inept government. It has been rushed through, with more haste than normal. To their eternal discredit the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties are complicit in allowing it through.

The only good news is that the tax on landlines has been dropped. This was to “pay for the next generation of Internet provision”, but with no explanation as to why taxpayers were supposed to pay for the infrastructure needed to make the larger ISPs still richer. If there’s a demand for it, the infrastructure will appear anyway because there’s money to be made.

The bad news is that the remainder of the bill is also a joke. It’s to do with protecting the rights of copyright holders (i.e. the music and media companies) by forcing ISPs to police what they’re downloading.

There’s some justice in this, on a theoretical level. ISPs are quite happy to make money from the ‘killer app’ that is media piracy, so they deserve the hassle of trying to clean it up. The problem is, as I need hardly tell you, that it’s unworkable.

The daft idea is to track pirates by their IP addresses. As anyone with an interest in cybercrime will tell you, this just doesn’t work. The criminals obscure their IP addresses, usually by hijacking the IP address belonging to an innocent third party. Under the Digital Economy Bill, it’s the innocent third party that’ll suffer.

There’s also the problem of identifying pirated content. Take it from me, this can’t be done, and the heuristics currently used to detect activity likely to be related to piracy (e.g. P2P protocols) can be rendered obsolete at any time.

Even if you could detect illicit traffic, you can’t possibly pin it down to an individual. Take one trivial example – “mobile broadband”. You can get this by walking into the mobile ‘phone shop of your choice, slapping some cash on the counter and walking out with a cellular modem with an Internet connection that’s completely untraceable. It even gets a different IP address from the service provider each time you turn it on. Are these to be banned? I don’t see it happening.

Pirates could also use one of the many free wireless hotspots found on any high street or hotel. Are these going to be closed down because pirates use them?

So, we have a bill that won’t solve the problem it sets out to tackle but will, instead, result in hassle for the law-abiding innocent computer users who have their IP addresses, and providers of publicly accessible Wifi networks.

You don’t have to be in favour of piracy to regard this latest piece of government nonsense as a very bad thing indeed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *