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Big UK ISPs Issue Open Letter Opposing File Sharer Cut-Off Proposals

Posted: 03rd Sep, 2009 By: MarkJ
The heads of several major broadband ISPs and consumer groups , including TalkTalk , BT , The Open Rights Group , Consumer Focus , Which? and Orange UK , have united to publish an open letter that opposes the government’s recent proposal to disconnect Internet users that are "suspected" of involvement with illegal downloads.

Open Letter via The Times:

Sir. We agree that the creative industries play an important role in the UK and understand the challenge that illegal files sharing presents. We don't condone or encourage such activity, but we are concerned that the government’s latest proposals on the ‘how’ to reduce illegal file sharing are misconceived and threaten broadband consumers’ rights and the development of new attractive services. Experience in other countries suggests that pursuing such an approach can result in significant consumer resistance. Any new policy must be very carefully considered.
* First, any decision to move to harsh and punitive measures such as disconnection must be genuinely underpinned by rigorous and objective assessment by Ofcom.

* Second, consumers must be presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. We must avoid an extra-judicial ‘kangaroo court’ process where evidence is not properly tested and accused broadband users are denied the right to defend themselves against false accusations. Without these protections innocent customers will suffer.

* Third, any penalty must be proportionate. Disconnecting users from the internet would place serious limits on their freedom of expression. Usually constraints to freedom of expression are only imposed as the result of custodial sentences, or incitement to racial hatred, or libel.

* Fourth, the proposal that ISPs and by implication broadband customers should pay most of the cost of these measures to support the creative industries is grossly unfair since the vast majority of consumers do not illegally file share. Further, this payment approach would discourage content industries from developing new services.
We hope that the government will genuinely consider consumers’ rights in its endeavours to protect the creative industries.

Charles Dunstone, TalkTalk
Ian Livingston, BT
Jim Killock, Open Rights Group
Ed Mayo, Consumer Focus
Deborah Prince, Which?

The move follows last month’s news that the government had proposed an amendment to Lord Carter's Digital Britain report, which would include a new policy to give Ofcom greater powers for tackling illegal online file sharers sooner. This would also include the controversial measure of suspending "hard core copyright pirates" from their broadband ISP (original news).

The move promptly drew an outcry from ISPs and consumer groups (here) because it failed to recognise the many complex reasons why 'Disconnection' was excluded from the final Digital Britain report in the first place.

Law firms currently track suspected illegal P2P activity by monitoring IP addresses, which are assigned to every computer when you go online, yet IP's can easily be spoofed, redirected, shared over big networks or even hijacked (open Wi-Fi networks etc.). The download itself could also be encrypted, making it nearly impossible for the ISP to verify.

The only true way to tell if somebody has done something illegal is to analyse their computers hard disk drive, otherwise you could just as easily end up targeting innocent users, which has already happened on a number of occasions. Suspending connections based on unreliable data and without a trial seems like a gross abuse. ISPs are not a police force and do not own content on the Internet.
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