Opinion: We Must Fight Against the End of Our Internet

Our Internet is a place that we, as individuals, have built for ourselves. It is a place where anybody can, with a little bit of money, build their own house and hang whatever curtains they like. It is a place where knowledge, art and music (rightly or wrongly) can be freely shared across the globe, and where we can connect with people of all shapes and sizes and of all walks of life.

I am only a youth, but I know Australians, Americans, Canadians, French, Dutch, Swedes, Finns, and many more nationalities besides. Think back to when you were young – did you know that many people? Thanks to the Internet, I know that Americans are not simply the overbearing arrogant population that our media likes to paint. I’ve discovered – like many people on the Internet – that we’re so alike, no matter where we come from. We know the Internet as the great liberaliser.

Now, however, we must protect it as one against the threat of catastrophe.

Imagine our televisions. Depending on what Sky package you buy – should you choose to buy one – you can access certain television channels. If you want to watch sports, there is the sports package. Your child wants to watch a cartoon? There is the kid’s package. If you wanted, you could buy all the packages, but this is very expensive and therefore prohibitive to all but the thriftiest.

In a few years, if we do not make our fuss now, this system may well be how we get our Internet supplied in Europe, thanks to an upcoming vote in the EU Parliament. If you’re a bit of a EU nerd, you might recall that Amendment 138 prevents ISPs from blocking the access of their users without a court order. The new revision, currently going through the EU Parliament, says the following:

no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights of end-users, without a prior decision taken by legally competent authorities”

I appreciate that not everybody is a law nerd, so let’s simplify. That clause, if revised, will allow “legally competent authorities” (meaning ISPs) to restrict the fundamental rights of their users. That means it will give ISPs carte blanche to restrict access to websites on a far wider scale than they can do now, without needing to inform authorities.

That means that they are perfectly at liberty to ban you off the internet. Did you just watch a cat dancing to Rick Astley? That’s copyright infringement! Watch a few more videos like that and you might find yourself removed from the internet permanently.

Imagine a world where access agreements to your website have to be agreed upon by every ISP if you want that ISP customer’s business. All those small businesses selling amusing t-shirts will be doomed, because, across Europe, nobody will be able to access their website. Would you maintain a blog if nobody could ever read it? Would you draw a web comic if nobody could ever see it? Would you update Wikipedia if nobody could ever access it? Unless you’re truly dedicated, the answer will be no.

We as liberals cannot afford to allow the tyranny of big business to restrict the access of knowledge. We cannot allow ISPs to restrict access based on whatever arbitrary rules they set up. Most importantly, the Internet cannot survive if this core value of Net Neutrality is thrown into the dustbin. We must fight, together, to protect our Internet.

* Huw Dawson is an Accrington-base Liberal Democrat member, who writes the Left Side of Liberal blog.

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9 Comments

  • Laurence Boyce 24th Apr '09 - 5:13pm

    What does the Pope think?

  • “That clause, if revised, will allow “legally competent authorities” (meaning ISPs) ”

    Do you have a link for the piece of legislation?

    That can only include ISPs if they are so defined elsewhere in the legislation.

    My initial reaction would be that legally competent authorities were the courts – which seems a reasonable (even very good!) position.

    If your right I think I share your concern – even if I don’t go along with you on the copyright point.

    If this sort of thing is left to the courts then that will operate well I think. Draconian action (or any) is unlikely to be taken against people watching YouTube videos even if it is a technical breach of copyright. Just as people weren’t prosecuted for home taping for personal use or to swap with friends.

    But that is a whole different issue from commercial operations setting up to “provide” people with copyright material without any compensation to the holder.

  • Thanks Huw

    One of those links says:
    “According to the report, Amendment 138 is being moved from an Article (substantive law) to a Recital (guidance only). And the text is changed to read “no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights of end-users, without a prior decision taken by legally competent authorities”.

    The original text of Amendment 138 said ‘without a prior decision by a judicial authority” or in other words, without a court order.”

    That does seem to suggest that somewhere there is a definition of “legally competent” which could include ISPs. In which case I think your concerns have more justification than I did half an hour ago.

    (I’d ignore Laurence – he seems to think that bigotry is only a problem when practised by people of religious faiths)

  • Laurence Boyce 24th Apr '09 - 7:50pm

    I’m sorry Huw, but my pointless remark was made really so as to avoid commenting on the article which is . . . well, a bit shite. I mean you start off reasonably well – about all the people you have met through the internet. That’s great. When I was growing up, the only people I knew were Catholics. It was awful.

    But then we have to save the internet from catastrophe. Oh man.

    Look, it’s not going to happen. The internet is here to stay. I don’t care what the clause says. Any ISP that barred people for no good reason would just lose out in the long run. The internet came from nowhere, but it is not about to retreat to nowhere.

    This reminds me a bit of a recent episode where a picture of a record cover was barred because it depicted a naked child. (You can see it here.) The picture was taken down out of the usual concerns, but after much fuss it was back up within a few days. But for that brief period, all the libertarian fruitcakes were declaring an end to free speech as we know it, as is their tedious wont.

    Here’s my prediction for the internet: it’s just going to get better and better, whether we save it from catastrophe or not.

  • Google UK throws up 27 results for the phrase “legally competent authority”

    Google worldwide gives 641. This doesn’t suggest to me that it’s a phrase with wide use or a clearly understood meaning.

    It’s probably defined within the legislation – if could mean “body which can legally exercise the power” and that could include anything. A read of the link Huw posted suggested that might be the direction it was heading in.

    If I struggle to get to sleep sufficiently I might start reading the draft EU legislation to work out if it is defined in the provision itself 🙂

  • A good source for information and news on Internet-related matters is the Open Rights Group – http://www.openrightsgroup.org/

  • All for internet freedom but
    That argument is nonsense

    ISPs will restrict access in order to gain more money?

    Surely the ISPs that don’t restrict access gets more customers?

    The ISPs that follow this patern of behaviour shut down

    Its called the free market
    liberals like it according to Oxford manifesto at least

    “no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights of end-users, without a prior decision taken by legally competent authorities”

    A more sensible interpretation would be

    that the legally competent authority would be a government body

    they restrictions would probably be to illiberal stuff such as child pornography or Al Queida recruiting sites

    ““legally competent authorities” (meaning ISPs) ”

    Looking up “Authority” in the dictionary I get

    a. The power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, or judge.
    b. One that is invested with this power, especially a government or body of government officials: land titles issued by the civil authority.
    2. Power assigned to another; authorization: Deputies were given authority to make arrests.
    3. A public agency or corporation with administrative powers in a specified field:

    All those definitions look like government bodies to me

    To my knowledge the EU hasn’t become an anarcho-capitalist state where law and order are conducted by private bodies.

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