Michael Padon" />
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Saturday, September 30, 2023


English law shows bad judgment

Before the dissolution of England’s Parliament Monday, a procedure known as “wash-up” had been taking place. The term describes a legislative process in which bills can become laws quickly by bypassing normal debate in both houses of Parliament.

The Digital Economy Bill was one of the bills that made its way into the law just four days before Parliament’s dissolution for the country’s May 6 elections. The bill, which was met with staunch opposition, laid out specific ways for copyright holders to go after peer-to-peer media pirates and for Internet service providers to block Web sites hosting pirated content.

ISPs are required under the bill to immediately send warning letters to accused peer-to-peer users. After sending letters for one year, ISPs will implement “technical” measures to stop users, including speed throttling. These measures are designed to prevent subscribers from “using the service to gain access to particular material, or limits such use,” according to the bill.

The bill also grants England’s High Court the power to order Web blocks against any site, for a number of vague reasons, including “any issues of national security raised by the secretary of state.”

There are many parts of the bill that are significant when it comes to digital age the world is in, and the idea of pushing this legislation through at the last minute with little debate is ridiculous.

Policy makers in many countries have proven, especially regarding copyright law, that they have no understanding of the technology for which they are making laws. U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens proved this to be true when he coined the phrase “series of tubes” to describe the Internet.

The bill does contain various methods of protection for the public, but this is still a dramatic change from the current Internet regulation policy in place in England and should be properly debated.

In order for a bill to become a law in England under normal circumstances, it must be debated in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons three times.

The bill passed through its second debate after less than 40 of the 646 members of the House of Commons showed up.

Conservative Party members who pushed the bill through have promised that they will shore up the bill after the elections, should any problems arise.

The most vocal opposition to the bill has come from a major digital rights advocacy organization in England, Open Rights Group. The group changed the homepage of its Web site to show a simplified message of the proposed bill, addressed by Parliament to the citizens. It focused on the arbitrariness of the Internet disconnections and the fact that any appeals process will have to be paid for out of the disconnected users’ pockets.

Overall, the bill reflects the ignorance and impatience with which legislators view technological regulation. Contrary to their beliefs, it is not something to be taken lightly and passed into law with little debate at the last minute.

Legislation should be carefully considered and debated; processes should be implemented so that they do not require constant revision.

Michael Padon is an engineering sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]

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