Friday, February 22, 2008

Government pushes ISPs to become the police

It's been trailed quite heavily, so it's not a surprise, but Andy Burnham's DCMS proposals to do the BPI's bidding and 'open consultations' on whether ISPs should be made to police their customer's online activities still bring something of a shudder.

Leaving aside the issues of copyright and ownership and if it could work: Andy Burnham is proposing that private companies should not only be given the right to eavesdrop on your conversations, but could actually be legally compelled to do so.

And what makes it even more frustrating is that even the BPI don't believe it'll make any difference to their sales. The record company cartel's spokesperson Matt Philips admitted as much to the Guardian's Technology supplement yesterday:

But imagine, finally, that a rigorous self-regulation procedure is in place, and that the internet populace knows about it. Does the BPI think its members' sales will grow? For once, Phillips hesitates. "That's really hard to answer. But it would send out the message that copyright is to be respected, that creative industries are to be respected and paid for," he says. "It would mean that the people who are paying for content wouldn't be subsidising those who don't. But I can't say to you now that it would make sales grow, or by how much."

So, this invasion of everybody's privacy - the treating of all broadband users in the UK as suspects, and as such open to the investigation of any corporation which provides ISP services - isn't even going to do anything other than "send out a message" about copyright. Let's hope they don't start publicising new records in the same way - "we're asking the government publishes people's health care records online to promote the new Kylie album".

The official announcement of the threat is part of a wide-ranging DCMS press release which tries to get away with hiding the unpleasant policy amongst some fluffier stuff. But it's in the fluff that you can see the little deals that have been done behind the scenes - clearly, part of the trade off has involved record companies doing little favours to prop up Burnham's weak creative industry 'stimulation' plans in return for being allowed to dictate government policy on filesharing:
# securing 5,000 apprenticeships across the creative industries by 2013. BBC at mediacity:uk, Tate Liverpool, Universal Music Group and Monkeydevil Design are among the first to sign up to offer high quality training

# working with the industries’ most successful creators, including Aardman Animations, EMI, and the Royal Opera House to develop five new ‘centres of excellence’ in creative skills

[Our emphasis]

Universal and EMI, eh? That's a strange coincidence, isn't it?

The government is trying to make it sound like it's merely encouraging a dialogue between ISPs and the BPI:
The Government supports current discussions between internet service providers and rights holders for action on illegal file sharing and our strong preference remains for a voluntary solution. However, to date no voluntary agreement has been reached, and we will shortly consult on options for a statutory solution, with a view to implementing legislation by April 2009. This consultation is in parallel with the voluntary discussions and we will stop the statutory “clock” if and when a voluntary solution is reached.

All very civilised. However, when the negotiations are taking place against a ticking clock, with the knowledge that if there's no agreement, the BPI will get what it wants anyway through legislation, you might wonder how fair the government is actually being.