Ban the Internet!

With a collective sigh of relief on the part of TV networks and film producers the length and breadth of the USA, the writers’ strike has come to an end. A settlement has been agreed to solve the writers’ grievances. These were, in a nutshell, that the writers wanted to be paid not only for writing a film or TV show, but also to be paid every time that film or TV show gets broadcast or a copy of it is sold on DVD, or a ruler with an image of the character they created is sold.

Unfortunately one cannot insist that the writers take a hit when everyone else in the entertainment industry lines their pockets with this free money. Either everybody admits that they’re milking the public dry, or nobody does.

Meanwhile, the government’s latest wheeze to appease the enormously powerful anti-copying lobby, funded and backed by every media company you can think of, has been released. It’s a green paper, suggesting that anyone caught downloading unauthorised material (i.e. everybody) will be banned from the internet after being given two chances to straighten up and fly right.

Apart from being a piece of anti-privacy legislation and censorship that would cause the Chinese government to pause for thought, it is clear that nobody involved in the drafting of this paper has considered how it would actually work.

How would an ISP know that downloaded, encrypted data is copyrighted material being copied illegitimately? Perhaps we should ban encryption – meaning that all those useful things like internet banking will have to go. Perhaps we should ban bittorrents – even though plenty of perfectly legitimate data is traded this way.

And how would this ban be enforced? Would a person subject to a ban be permitted to use a computer in an Internet cafe? How about at work, or at the home of a relative? What happens if the person simply switches ISPs, or moves house? The Internet isn’t like a magazine subscription: it is a method of exchanging data.

The UK government frequently slips up in matters of technology. Grand projects go wildly over budget and fail to function properly because it appears that there is nobody with the ear of the legislature who has any idea how computers work. The NHS struggles on with a mish-mash of ancient databases that don’t talk to one another, meaning that hard-won hospital appointments with a specialist are spent filling in forms with data that could have been gotten from the patient’s GP. The ID card scheme trundles ever on, haemorrhaging cash but failing to actually produce a card the public would be happy to carry, and the DSS’s behemoth seemed unable to organise a simple SQL query (or even deleting two columns of data) in order to anonymise information that was couriered to an auditor.

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