Internet blocking

The issue of Internet blocking has been in the news recently, against the backdrop of a survey which suggests that Internet access is a fundamental right. In the UK, the Digital Economy Bill (often described as ‘controversial’) has run in to problems in the Lords, over ‘account suspension’ – that’s disconnections to you and me – and web blocking. The bill gives the Secretary of State the power to decide the maximum period of of account suspension for those found guilty of illegal file sharing – not the greatest level of parliamentary oversight, but hardly unusual. The changes to the regulatory regime for broadcasting were brought in using the negative regulation procedure for SIS, and that includes those issues which were not required by the Audivisual Media Services Directive but permitted by it. The compromise put forward by the government was that it would only apply a ‘temporary’ suspension, rather than termination of the accounts. There is, of course, no clear idea what temporary for these purposes, though the government has pointed out that any disconnection must be proportionate. The Lords proposed an amendment (amendment 120A), which has been described by the UK association of ISPs (ISPA) as ‘misjudged and disproportionate’. The amendment would enable an application to be made to the High Court to obtain an injunction requiring ISPs to block access to sites where there is a substantial proportion of infringing material. The amendment has given rise to a certain amount of adverse comment, but the bill itself still has to go through a number of other stages in the legislative process.

The issue of websites making illegal content available is being discussed in the context of the highly secretive negotiations for ACTA – a proposed new copyright treaty which apparently includes provisions for a three strikes rule, as well as the possibility of removing ISP immunity.. The European Parliament, which must post-Lisbon consent to the treaty, has been insisting that the proposed new Treaty not go beyond the position currently found in EU law, and passed a resolution to this effect; although not legally binding it was passed by a large majority. Unfortunately it is difficult to comment fully on the draft treaty, as the negotiations are being carried on in secret and the only information coming from leaked documents.

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