This Act, rushed through parliament without proper parliamentary scrutiny just before the election, could lead to erosion of people's basic rights, as well as undermining the UK’s digital economy. Section 8 to 18, which would lead to people being disconnected the internet for suspected copyright infringement and the blocking of websites, need to be repealed.
Sections 3-8 established a costly parallel enforcement mechanism of internet subscribers suspected of copyright infringement. The legal uncertainly created by these provisions threaten Open Wifi and internet access provision by businesses as well as public intermediaries such as libraries, schools and local councils. The cost of this process arising to UK ISPs and Ofcom will be in the millions and will increase the cost of broadband for all UK consumers. These provisions were introduced without proper economic or privacy impact assessments, and it is to date not clear if they can be implemented in compliance with the Data Protection Act. The net effect of these provisions completely contradicts the aim of universal service in broadband and will impose an unnecessary and significant burden on the digital economy.
Sections 9-16 allow the Secretary of State to impose a duty on UK ISPs to take technical measures, such as disconnection, against subscribers suspected by copyright owners of copyright infringement. Subscribers will be disconnected based on criteria to be established by the Secretary of State and without the due process provided by a court of law, which normally deal with civil and criminal copyright infringement. Punishing entire households, public intermediaries and businesses because one user is suspected of having infringed copyright, a civil offence, by disconnecting them from a essential communications service is disproportionate and will have serious economic and social consequences.
Sections 17-18 allow the Secretary of State can introduce secondary legislation that would force UK internet service providers to block websites “from which a substantial amount of material has been, is being or is likely to be obtained in infringement of copyright”. This provision is unnecessary as extensive rights to request copyright infringing material to be taken down exist for copyright owners to protect their content online. These sweeping powers would be used against the likes of YouTube or search engines and is open to abuse similar to the current abuse of libel laws. There is a real risk of it being abused to allow censorship of web sites by the back door. Section 17 and 18 were introduced to the Digital Economy Act without consultation and were to a large extent written to answer the demands of the BPI which lobbies parliament on behalf of record companies, reflecting the needs of only one interest in the debate.