The age-old right of Britons to be presumed innocent of a crime until proven guilty of it are being traduced and destroyed by an unelected politician who has taken it upon himself to be the Robespierre of the Internet, Martyn Warwick reports.
So this is what Britain has been brought to. An unelected Prime Minister, parachuted into the job and too indecisive to call a General Election that just might, had he grasped the nettle when he had the chance, have given him a five-year democratic mandate, appoints another unelected politician, who has twice previously been removed from post under suspicion of corruption, to oversee the introduction of the controversial and partisan Digital Britain Bill that could see millions of UK Internet users prosecuted and criminalised via so-called "tribunals" where those called before them will have to prove their innocence rather than the prosecution being required to prove their guilt.
Not only that, but the Bill itself will be enacted into law by an "Order In Council" a sneaky stratagem that circumvents the need for the legislation to be debated on the floor of the House of Commons and put to the vote. Instead, our very own gaulieter of the Internet will, with an airy wave of the pen, "make it so" - and so much for democracy.
It's strange how the attitude of Peter "Lord" Mandelson, the UK's "Business Secretary" and one of the fattest and sleekest of all Britian's fat cats, hitherto so professedly disinterested in Internet matters, changed so markedly in the summer after he had dinner with billionaire US businessman David Geffen at the Rothschild villa in Corfu on August 7.
Despite protestations to contrary, it is evident that much of what has happened in regard to Mandelson's attitude to the Web relates directly back to that meeting when, it is claimed officially, matters of Internet file-sharing "were not discussed." Of course not. Perish the thought. We just have to accept the spin-doctor's line that Mandy is now suddenly down on downloaders and his tete a tete with one of the most implacable opponents of file sharing had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Well, I for one don't believe it - and neither do many others. For example, David Davies, a Conservative MP says, 'It does seem a remarkable coincidence. Peter Mandelson should be forced to reveal the full extent of his meetings with wealthy friends on holiday and, in the name of openness, disclose exactly what they discussed."
So, Mandelson is to remove the power to manage and deal with illegal downloaders from the body set up to do so, the telecoms and media regulator Ofcom, and will transfer it to a series of "here today, gone tomorrow" Secretaries of State and their coteries of sucker-fish apparatchiks. Interestingly such an option (that is certain to result in endless accusations of partiality and self-interest) was specifically ruled out of discussion when the Digital Britain Report was was published back in June.
The author of that report, Stephen Carter, former head of Ofcom and now also promoted to the House of Lords as a Peer of the Realm, was of the opinion that illegal filesharers should get letters warning them that their activities, unless curtailed, might leave them open to prosecution.
The sanction behind the Carter proposal was that if such measures failed to cut piracy of content by 70 per cent by 2012, Ofcom would then be given the power to require ISPs to put in place so-called "technical measures" that would throttle the access speeds of persistent illegal file-sharers slowing their connections down to such an extent that it would make it practically impossible for them to download anything much more than an occasional email.
But that wasn't anywhere near draconian enough for Peter Mandelson after his dramatic "Road to Corfu" conversion.
Mandelson, only recently returned to British politics after several years on the EU Gravy Train in Brussels, is a prime-ministerial appointee, unelected and without a parliamentary constituency to whom he answers.
Nonetheless he is thigh-deep in a controversial area with proposals that opponents claim will be in direct breach of European human rights legislation.
Mandelson's intent is that whilst transgressors will still get a "warning notice", the very next step will be to sever the web connections of those who persist in what some faceless bureaucrat or stool pigeon will decide is "illegal downloading". Alleged miscreants will also face a fine of "up to £50,000". What's more, the introduction of the so-called "technical measures" will be at the whim of the Secretary of State, so accusations of personal vendettas against a single individuals or a group of people by an Officer of the Crown are sure to be aired before long.
This stinks and, as they say, a fish rots from its head down. The new UK Parliament will be a short-lived affair. A General Election must be held in Britain by June next year at the latest and if current opinion polls are anything to go by Peter Mandelson, could well be looking for a new job thereafter. Where, I wonder where he might find gainful employment should that dreadful day dawn?
Well, he's already said that he'd be willing to turn his coat and offer his services to the Conservative Party should it gain power (currently Mandelson claims to be a Labour supporter) although why a new Tory administration might choose to avail itself of such an opportunist is beyond understanding. But, consider this, the new Bill consists almost entirely of a litany of penalties for people who do things that upset the entertainment industry. So I suppose Mandy could land a job there in due course. Cynical? Moi? Too right, and Geffen probably needs a new ventriloquist's dummy.
As it stands the legislation is a travesty. There's nothing in it about cheap and easily accessible broadband, nothing about net neutrality, nothing about a national strategy to ensure that Britain's poor and those in remote rural locations get decent web access, nothing about a plan for education and the Internet, nothing about telemedicine: indeed there's nothing but threats, penalties and criminalisation.
And in the meantime, technology moves ever forwards. The truth is that the music and "record" industry is fighting a battle it has already lost. There aren't any records any more and CDs are a dying breed. Laws relating to an industry that was at its peak half a century ago are moribund and useless - and yet vested interests continue to spend millions on trying to prop them up even though they no longer reflect the norms of society or technology.
What about peer-to-peer wireless, anonymous encryped wireless connections and cheap and ever more available terabyte media servers? What about users buying a VPN connection and then using any endpoint of choice be that in Venezuela, the Turks and Caicos islands or any two-bit Internet haven anywhere on the planet? Have these options been considered by Mandelson and his ilk? It seems not. Bit too complex for them thaty sort of reality..
Laws in the UK usually work by the consent of the public and its elected parliament, not by fiat imposed by an unelected mountebank. So, in case you don't know about these things, Mandelson and Co., be aware that you can sign up and join something like the above for about a fiver a month - and people probably, and hopefully, will - in their droves.
Mandelson is actually removing the right for those accused of crimes to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the Digital Britain Act will be in direct conflict with the EU's new telecoms package which states, "measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. A prior fair and impartial procedure should be guaranteed, including the right to be heard of the person or persons concerned."
The fight is only just beginning.
To take action visit the Open Rights Group site where letter-writing, telephone numbers and so on are available
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