July 6th, 2008

Technological fixes for economic and social problems don't work: Tell your MEPs

I'm guessing that most of you (at least of my EU readership) have already emailed your MEPs with a message roundly condemning the stealth attempts to pass legislation that will allow media companies to disconnect ordinary people from the Internet permanently just for the suspicion that they may be filesharing.

If you haven't may I join my voice to those urging you to do so? It won't take long and it will help preserve your rights online as well as saving the small and medium sized ISPs that do so much to keep Internet access prices competitive.

Here's my letter, which I've based on texts I've seen around the net (thanks to perlmonger for the opening and closing sections which are where I was getting stuck...):
I am writing to you as a constituent asking you to exert whatever influence you have with members of the IMCO and IMTR committees of the European Parliament to vote against amendments 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 that have been introduced into the Telecoms package.

These amendments were introduced under the influence of industry lobbyists whose interests are in the attempted maintenance of obsolete business models that have become unsustainable; not only that, but they are an attempt to subvert earlier rejection by Parliament of explicit legislation to the same ends. The proposed measures are disproportionate, unworkable in practice, violate privacy and personal data security and would lead to entire families being denied access to the internet through the presumed guilt of one member. The European Parliament has already voted against them - they should not be passed by hiding them inside other important and much needed legislation.

Not only are they disproportionate, putting the onus on ISPs to detect and implement the measures required by the amendments is both an unfair measure and technically unfeasable. Many UK ISPs are small or medium sized businesses, and do not have the funds required to invest in wholesale tracking of their users' actions. The amount of work required to implement these measures is large, and the techniques complex. The only organisations able to do this will be the incumbent carriers, reinforcing what is a de facto monopoly by putting small ISPs out of business.

There is, in fact, no way of identifying the difference between legitimate and illegitimate traffic in the manner described in the amendments. Many users use the same tools that are used to download copyright violations to install Linux, or get updates from Microsoft. If the tools proposed by the legislation aren't perfect these innocent users will be tarred with the same brush as anyone violating copyrights. Even if it is possible to determine the type of data being accessed, it's impossible to determine the actual state of the rights associated with it, or the intentions of the rights holders.

Innocent users also face the risk of having their home networks hijacked by third parties without their knowledge - and losing access as a result of third party actions. I'm more technically aware than most people, but it still took several weeks for me to find that someone elsewhere in my street was using filesharing software over my wireless network. Most home users don't have access to the tools or the skills to find and identify these situations, yet the proposed legislation will make them liable for whatever happens on their home wireless networks.

I'm a technology journalist by trade, but I come from a technical background and helped found one of the UK's first national ISPs, and also helped build the online presences of many major high street brands. The Internet has provided a boost to the economy, and these measures will reduce access to the Internet and by closing down small ISPs will increase the costs to the very users the European online economy needs.

The committees are scheduled to vote on this package tomorrow, 7th July, and I urge you to do what you can to have these amendments rejected and, failing that, to vote against the package yourself should it be presented for a vote by the Parliament as a whole.

I'm sorry that I'm sending this message with less than 24 hours to go, but I only found out about this today myself: so please do what you can to prevent these egregious and dangerous measures being codified into European law and to ensure that the European Parliament continues to represent the interests of its electors, even where those conflict with the short-term advantage of multinational corporations and their lobbyists.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Bisson
Remember you have a voice and a point of view, and it's one that deserves to be heard.