After the turmoil of the General Elections of 2010, it seems that things are finally returning to a reasonable normality. But what about the Digital Economy Act that was rushed through with the UK’s last government? Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group (ORG) explains:

You may have read in the last few days that the Lib Dems have committed to removing the dangerous parts of the Digital Economy Act, while Jeremy Hunt, as the Conservative minister responsible, has said that he won’t.

And you may have seen yesterday that Julian Huppert, the new Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, has started a ‘Early Day Motion’ to get MPs from all parties to publicly call for repeal:

That this House believes that sections nine to 18 of the Digital Economy Act 2010 should not have been rushed through in the dying days of the last Parliament; further believes that these sections have large repercussions for consumers, civil liberties, freedom of information and access to the internet; and calls on the Government to introduce early legislation to repeal those provisions.

Meanwhile, Eric Joyce is organising an All Parliamentary Group – that is, a cross-party organisation to try to deal with the Bill.

Yesterday, ORG and other opponents of the Digital Economy Act submitted responses to the Cost consultation for the first part of the provisions. These provisions allow for copyright holders to send letters to people who may be infringing their copyright licenses, through a scheme run by Ofcom.

The government is proposing two very dangerous ideas: firstly that ISPs customers should pay 25% of the costs of monitoring and sending letters.

Secondly, the government is asking whether people appealing against incorrect notifications should pay an advance fee before being allowed to appeal.

We firmly reject these notions. Potentially vast numbers of letters will be sent out to customers, allowing for very frequent errors, even at a low level of inaccuracy. We know that ISPs do not currently keep particularly accurate time stamp records. So it is vital that people who are accused are able to make early corrections of these mistakes.

It is also wholly wrong that customers should be footing the Bill of this enforcement scheme. The vast majority, even by copyright holders’ estimates, do not infringe their copyrights, yet they will be paying for a quarter of this scheme. A small number will be priced off the Internet by even a small rise in broadband bills – Consumer Focus estimate perhaps 10,000 households.

BT also drew attention to the lack of a Privacy Impact Assessment for the scheme. Privacy concerns could scupper the acceptability of letter writing. Yet the engagement from the government and ICO on this issue has so far been less than acceptable.

ORG and other groups have been willing to accept the principle of letter writing, but this current consultation shows the weaknesses in the legislation that was rammed through in the dying hours of the last Parliament. Already the Act threatens to punish innocent people with additional, unwarranted costs and bars to clearing their name.

Please write to your MP, asking for repeal of the worst sections. Ask them to join the All Parliamentary Group and sign the EDM.

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