Leaked Document: Copyright Industry Wants a Great Firewall of Britain

Website blocking has certainly been discussed in the US with the PROTECT IP act first propsed last month. While the senate has approved the bill, it seems that the US isn’t going to be the only country debating the prospects of filtering the internet.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

A document labelled confidential was recently sent to James Firth’s blog and ultimately posted on Open Rights Group detailing a proposal by some industry interests to pressure British ISPs to participate in a “voluntary” site blocking system.

The documents describe this system as an “approach to inhibiting access to websites that are substantially focused upon infringement of copyright.”

There’s plenty of reason to be concerned and one of the main reason to be concerned is that public policy is being decided behind closed doors. This isn’t too dissimilar to when copyright organizations tried pushing for many controversial provisions in the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Everything about it was being planned behind closed doors. The only reason anyone heard about it early on was because Wikileaks blew the lid off of the secrecy surrounding ACTA back in 2008. This led to a major outcry from individuals and human rights groups alike to question the bill.

It seems this “voluntary” Great Firewall of Britain won’t be any different. Many of the criticisms directed at ACTA could be directed at this proposal including, “Was the proposal so bad that they had to hide it to avoid any kind of scrutiny?”

There are other reasons to be concerned besides the questionable action of keeping this secret. Firth provided the following quote and response:

“Evidence should also be submitted to show the urgency with which the measures are sought to inform any balance that needs to be struck by the expert body and the Court between the need for swift action and the need for sufficient evidence.”

This is very worrying indeed. Whilst the document talks about evidence gathering, “prior notification and liberty;” it also talks about a turn-around time quick enough for “live events” and a balance between swift action and evidence.

The language used reads like copyright protection is being sold as more important than due process under law. In any case, I can’t imagine a technical solution that would allow ISPs to implement an effective block within the time scale of a “live event”, irrespective of the time it takes a court to act.

So it’s not surprising that digital rights champions the Open Rights Group were locked out, despite hearing of the meeting in advance and putting in a request to attend

The Open Rights Group also expressed deep concern for this proposal:

The documents, sent to James Firth’s blog, set out a dangerous voluntary scheme that would involve ‘expedited court procedures’ and a ‘balance’ between evidence and speed of action. Definitions of what content is to be judged blockable is scarce. References to exactly how such blocking would work, and the consequences, are non-existent. The case for blocking is left unmade, with no analysis about the effects of such measures. There is cursory reference to the rule of law and proper oversight. The proposal, if it is the genuine proposal, adds up to a dangerous revocation of the rule of law where lobby groups would decide what you are allowed to see and read.

The Open Rights Group then referenced a recent Rapporteur which sounded an “alarm” over such measures. They also encouraged British citizens to contact their MP to get them to “sign EDM 1913, which calls for the government to take on board what the UN have said and reconsider the Digital Economy Act and its many proposed website blocking schemes.”

The full document is currently being hosted by the Open Rights Group for those interested in reading the proposal.

I doubt that an ISP could ever prevent every user from accessing a blocked website. All it really takes it the right proxy to access it.

Do you think website blocking will ever be fully possible or is it a bad idea?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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