Friends, Bloggers, Tweeple… Lend me your eyes!

This week the Internet community was outraged by a UK government attempt to sneak new Internet legislation through parliament. The two hour debate made a mockery of our political process, akin to a computer hacker exploiting a security flaw in a computer system.

The new Digital Economy Bill – thinly disguised as a tool to fight copyright theft – will actually give the government total control over all .UK domain registrations. They will have the power to switch your Internet off, and to arbitrarily block access to sites they deem unsuitable for you.

Freedom of speech and expression are the most precious of commodities, sacrificing even one inch of this freedom requires some serious justification. How can a meaningful debate like this be rushed? Elizabeth Sparrow, president of the British Computing Society called on the government to give the bill more time, saying:

“This bill could have huge consequences for online activity that are currently poorly understood. The Institute is highlighting the importance of the Internet to citizenship and the opportunities for everyone to participate. Those opportunities could be curtailed and even diminished if some of the proposals being discussed make it into law.”

Even Google weighed in on the argument:

“We absolutely believe in the importance of copyright, but blocking through injunction creates a high risk that legal content gets mistakenly blocked, or that people abuse the system.”

Tim Berners-Lee, credited inventor of the Internet has indicated his position against this bill in a recent document published by W3C. Even Nominet CEO, Lesley Cowley voiced opposition to the bill recently.

The Impact of the Digital Economy Bill

So just what kind of impact is this bill likely to have? Firstly, techies always have the option of using proxies to access sites the UK government thinks it has blocked. This has worked for Chinese and Iranian citizens and many others in the past. Google – along with other companies – now offers an independent DNS service which is not within the UK government’s control. Webmasters could register .com domains instead of .uk ones, thereby avoiding all levels of this new found, self-appointed control. For every limitation placed on the Web, there will be two and a half ways around it. In fact, the government itself knows little of the Internet, and would be reduced to asking technicians to comply with the new law. Internet provider TalkTalk has already declared it will not comply with this new legislation. If each individual involved in I.T. adopted a similar line, the government themselves would be powerless to bring about the realisation of this new bill. They might just succeed in further irritating and alienating an already disenfranchised public.

But above all, the Internet is an independent community, with a unique language, etiquette and style of humour. It is fair to say that it has its own culture. The parliamentary expenses scandal has shown us just how unfit our politicians are to police themselves. From where I’m sat, the government have no more right or ability to police this global community, than it did the early colonies of America, once it became clear they would flourish. They have missed their opportunity, leaving the evolution of the Internet to develop organically through Universities, private enterprise and the ideas of some incredibly bright individuals. Only now that the Internet plays a major role in our lives and the elections themselves does the government suddenly decide it wants to reassert its power. The very idea that any single person – or group of people – could be ‘in charge’ of free ideas and the creative thought channelled through this wonderful medium is not only flawed, it is laughable.

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