‘Three strikes’ penalty for file sharing a sticky wicket for British politicians

EFF’s Danny O’Brien says British politicians are in for a firestorm of protest and perhaps failed election bids if they support a government digital economy bill that includes a provision for terminating Internet access for repeated copyright infringement. -DB

Electronic Frontier Foundation
October 28, 2009
By Danny O’Brien

The arbitrary termination of Internet access for repeated accusations of copyright infringement — “three strikes” — is as profoundly unpopular in the UK as it is elsewhere. National experts have generally come out against the idea, from government civil servants who previously omitted it from a public consultation document as too drastic, to the counter-intelligence MI5 unit, who apparently fear it will encourage an encrypted and unpoliceable darknet, to many of the artists it is supposed to protect. Net users, of course, are aghast at such a disproportionate and ineffective scheme, and 70% of Britons came out against it in a recent poll.

Nonetheless, UK Business secretary Peter Mandelson today stated explicitly that he intends to include three strikes in the upcoming digital economy bill. In a subsequent press conference, a government spokesman emphasized that the arbitrariness of this Internet enforcement mechanism will be proportional only to how ineffective it is as a deterrent:

If it [illegal filesharing] is a massive problem we could turn on a fast, powerful response… If there is a little problem we can be more proportionate. How draconian we are will be a matter for the secretary of state to decide at the time.”

Is the UK really set to join France in a legally mandated three strikes regime? Even with Britain’s generally government-friendly lawmaking process, that seems up for question.

A UK general election is due to occur within the next few months (the exact date is up to current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but he is required to name the date before June 2010). The Conservative chairman for the committee considering the proposed digital economy bill has already expressed scepticism that there is time in this parliament if such a “hot potato” as three strikes is included.

The more British voters write to their MPs to complain, the hotter that potato will get. Unpopular and arbitrary proposals as three strikes will not sit well with any politicians facing an election in their near future.

Coyyright 2009 Electronic Frontier Foundation