The British government says it wants the power to force regulators to cut off Internet connections to repeated copyright offenders. It’s a change of heart from just two months ago when officials suggested slowing down access would suffice.
In its Digital Britain report in June, the government said communications regulator Ofcom should consider the technical options for tackling illicit filesharing and decide whether they were necessary; that gave a timescale of 2012 at the earliest before any measures could take effect.
However, the government now says that, “our thinking on the process supporting the objectives and the obligations has developed.” If BBC reports are correct, that’s political speak for Peter Mandelson (pictured), the government minister in charge of business issues, pulling rank over the culture and media officials who put together the original report.
The new proposals say that Mandelson (or a successor in the role) should have the power to force Ofcom to take “technical measures” to cut down on copyright infringement. These measures would be in the form of secondary legislation, meaning they wouldn’t need Parliamentary approval.
Mandelson’s department explained the changes as stemming from concerns that waiting until Ofcom had carried out a full review would be an unacceptable delay in tackling the problem. It also said the original plan of setting benchmarks for how quickly illegal activity should be reduced were inflexible and that introducing technical measures needed to be a judgment call.
The department also said that suspending an account should be added to the list of measures which could be introduced. The statement acknowledged that such a measure “would affect all members of a household equally” which suggests it could be the home rather than the individual user which is blacklisted.
The government is also proposing that the costs of implementing any technical measures should be split equally between the internet service provider concerned and the holder of the relevant copyright. That’s likely to anger ISPs as well as causing confusion given that it’s likely most illegal downloading cases involve a wide variety of content.