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By: MarkJ - 20 October, 2009 (11:01 PM)
piracyBroadband ISP TalkTalk has published the results from a new survey into 1,083 UK wireless network connections. It found that 5% were completely open (no security), 36% used WEP (easily hackable), 56% used WPA which is currently fairly secure but not perfect and only 3% used the best WPA2. This equates to 7m homes and businesses that are vulnerable to hijacking and, under new anti-piracy proposals, at risk of being wrongly disconnected from the Internet.

The study has been created as a follow-up to TalkTalk's initial survey (October 15th news) of a single street (The Highway, a residential road in Stanmore, Middlesex), which revealed similar findings but only tested a total of 68 connections. Exposed networks would be vulnerable to unauthorised P2P file sharing and could potentially lead to the owners being accused of an offence that they never committed.

The study coincides with the launch of a campaign against Lord Mandelson's plans to disconnect people suspected of illegal P2P file sharing without a trial. Don’t Disconnect Us has been initiated by TalkTalk. The campaign’s website sets out three principal objections to Lord Mandelson’s plans;

1. It by-passes the courts and gives rightsholders quasi-judicial powers

2. It exposes millions of people to false prosecution since it is based on an approach where those suspected of illegal filesharing will be presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence in order to avoid being falsely disconnected

3. It will do little to tackle illegal filesharing since the main offenders will easily avoid detection by using other people’s broadband connections to download content or encrypting their activity. Indeed the proposed measures will increase Wi-Fi and PC hijacking and so increase even further the chances of innocent customers being wrongly cut off.

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

The risk of innocent people being disconnected is not hypothetical. Consumer organisations such as Which? have been contacted by dozens of people who have been wrongly accused of illegal P2P file sharing by Rights Holders who used a similar method to the one Mandelson is suggesting.

The new campaign follows last week’s news that the All Party Parliamentary Communications Group (apComms) had joined music artists and consumer groups in opposition to Mandelson's cut-off policy on illegal downloads (original news).

apComms Report Quote:

[On illegal file sharing] We conclude that much of the problem with illegal sharing of copyrighted material has been caused by the rightsholders, and the music industry in particular, being far too slow in getting their act together and making popular legal alternatives available.

We do not believe that disconnecting end users is in the slightest bit consistent with policies that attempt to promote eGovernment, and we recommend that this approach to dealing with illegal file-sharing should not be further considered.

The disconnection proposal is now facing stiff opposition from just about everybody except Rights Holders and of course the current Labour government itself, minus a few rebellious MP's. Today's news merely highlights just how fallible Mandelson’s disconnection plan really is and should add more weight to the argument against it.

By comparison the original Digital Britain report, before it was meddled with, proposed a series of service restrictions (speed limits, blocked websites etc.) upon those suspected of having repeatedly downloaded illegal files and ignored several warnings. Though these suffered from similar problems related to accurately identifying the correct individual, they did at least represent the result of a more balanced consultation.

UPDATE - 12:10pm

The Don't Disconnect Us website is now finally online:
http://www.dontdisconnect.us
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