There has been widespread criticism of discussions being held between the ISP industry and RightsHolders over the latter’s desire to effect blocking of websites being seen to promote copyright infringement. It is natural. An activity conducted behind closed doors is bound to arouse suspicion.
The latest of these meetings happened yesterday but today communications minister Ed Vaizey chaired a session that allowed alternative voices to be heard.
Present at the meeting were representatives of the Taxpayers Alliance, Open Rights Group,Pirate Party,COADEC, Open Digital Policy.org, Featured Artists Coalition,LINX and of course me.
I think Ed Vaizey found the level of debate far more constructive than he had been expecting. The gist was that people were not supporting unlawful behaviour but concerned that the evidence presented was not open to scrutiny.
We should be pursuing other more conventional methods of prevention such as bigger effort to liaise with other countries to take down sites. The concern is that blocking is not only very ineffective but that the collateral damage includes constraints on innovation and freedom of expression.
I cited the example of the recent court injunction forcing BT to block access to Newsbin2, a site promoting file sharing that ignored previous court orders to cease unlawful activity. The original Newsbin was bankrupted by the costs of litigation but has phoenixed.
In anticipation of the blocking order Newsbin2 has produced a downloadable client that it says allows users to circumvent BT’s “Cleanfeed” blocking system. Cleanfeed is the system BT uses to block access to illegal child pornography.
Of course the fact that now people can get round Cleanfeed potentially means that the same technology can be used to access sites promoting far nastier things than file sharing. Whats more by driving more people to using encrypted methods to access such sites we are also removing the ability to monitor file sharing activity and therefore to prevent effective modelling of the copyright infringement problem that is meant to be happening under the Digital Economy Act. If you can’t see what people are up to how do you know there is a problem?
An example of where this would be disastrous would have been in the recent riots in the UK where the police were able to monitor organisational activity on Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry messenger. Had gangs already become used to communicating using encrypted systems then it would have stayed secret.
This is a war that cannot be won. I’m not saying we should encourage state surveillance but this is a scenario where openness of communication makes more sense.
The upshot of the day is that Ed Vaizey, who I think must have been expecting a meeting with the looney left, left with a few things to think about and a promise to include this group in talks with the Rights Holders. Whether they come to the table or not is another issue.