Digital Economy Bill Blasted As a Privacy Disaster

As the clock ticks down towards passage, the Open Rights Group has blasted the Digital Economy Bill. Among the concerns, the group says it is a “privacy disaster waiting to happen”.

We’ve been covering the UK’s Digital Economy Bill for the last while. We picked things up last month as it made it out of the report stage in the House of Lords. The bill, at the time, had no shortage of criticisms.

Among the criticisms, there are provisions in the bill that would allow for jail terms of 10 years for no-commercial copyright infringement. Alarm bells on this alone rang out for multiple reasons. One concern about this is the fact that this kind of punishment is exceedingly extreme for filesharers. Another concern is the fact that copyright trolls can utilize this jail term to extort money out of filesharers through so-called “settlements” via demand letters. To make matters worse, it seems that lawmakers won’t even discuss the matter as debate proceeded through the legislative process.

Another criticism towards the bill is the major burden of age verification for websites. If you operate a website in Britain that deals with explicit content, new regulations would force age verification. While some might think of this as little more than a pop-up window, the requirements are quite high. So much so that concerns are being raised that it would force small businesses offline.

while many are raising concerns, it seems that lawmakers are still forging ahead with the bill. Just last week, it cleared the final stage in the House of Lords. The next step for the bill is for it to be sent back and have amendments considered. After this, the bill will receive royal assent.

While the news is seemingly grim for digital rights minded British citizens, that isn’t stopping the push to stop the legislation. The Open Rights Group has published another article on the bill. In it, the bill is described as a “privacy disaster waiting to happen”. From the article:

Despite assurances that pornographic publishers will be obliged to use age verification tools that are privacy-friendly, the approach is almost certain to go wrong.

The government has chosen to leave the market to specify and provide the actual tools. They expect websites, rather than users, to choose which age checking product is used.

At this point we should remember that one website operator, MindGeek controls the majority of the UK porn market. They are also keen to implement Age Verification, according to the government. The result will be that they will choose and probably own the dominant age verification product.

So long as these services and tracking of vast numbers of UK porn users is voluntary … then there is little that could be done to challenge it.

The consequences for privacy are enormous. New risks of tracking people’s sexual preferences will be created, and possibilities of data leaks will abound. It will be the government’s decisions that created this problem, as they failed to impose sufficient safeguards upon the age verification market.

The organization raised other concerns about the bill including Internet censorship, extreme punishments for filesharing, and data sharing.

The Open Rights Group says that, at this point, they are considering their options. One idea being floated by the group is a Judicial Review to try and address the serious concerns in the bill.

This certainly suggests that, even if the bill passes as-is, the fight will not be over. It is certainly a battle that is shaping up to be a nasty one.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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