The Digital Economy Act was dealt another severe blow this week, as ACS:Law’s website was attacked and private information about users was leaked over the Internet. The law firm, who’s homepage (when they had one!) boasted of their ability to help rights holders “exploit and enforce their rights globally” using “effective and unique methods”. When, in actuality, this meant : ‘send blackmailing letters, demanding cash’ to broadband users, who’s data they had obtained in collusion with BT, Plusnet and Sky.
ACS:Law Faces £500,000 Fine, BT Faces Legal Action
As a result of the leak, ACS:Law now faces legal action to the tune of £500,000, as it may have breached the Data Protection Act (1998) by providing inadequate security for private individual’s information. BT may now also face legal action for handing over the information and Sky is trying desperately to distance itself from the beleaguered law firm, in a vain attempt to extricate itself from the mess it helped to create.
Impossible to Enforce Digital Economy Act and Protect Privacy
But there are bigger lessons here than the superficial: ‘protect your data better’. This recent flashpoint has demonstrated just how powerless our government is to protect your personal data online, and just how impossible it will be to enforce the Digital Economy Act and protect your privacy at the same time. Still further, it shows that ISPs will be held accountable for disclosing data about the British public to third parties, along with all the liabilities that accidental disclosure entails.
The Broader Struggle for Intellectual Freedom
But I urge the reader to see this debacle within the broader context of a greater struggle for intellectual freedom. The Internet represents the ultimate freedom of speech and expression. To the government, this equates to a loss of control, which they will perceive as a threat. They are concerned that Wikileaks will give you details of the Iraq war they didn’t want you to hear. They are worried that you will learn the details of how your MP abused his or her expenses claims. But above all, they are terrified that free ideas can unite people to work together to cast aside undesirable forms of control.
The Chinese government is so concerned they have erected a firewall around their entire country while India habitually monitors people’s private messages. Even here at home, a leaked CIA paper completed in February 2010 (codenamed ‘Red Cell’) shows that even the U.S. Intelligence Services are concerned about the influence of Blogs, Twitter and Facebook:
The ubiquity of internet services around the world and the widespread use of English on popular websites such as Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and various blogs enable radical clerics and terrorist recruiters to bypass America’s physical borders and influence US citizens.
It would be incredibly naive to see ACS:Law’s secret spying and gathering of private information as totally disconnected from all of these issues. Indeed, I would say that a civil war of information was being quietly waged in the background: one in which the people are seeking greater accountability, transparency and freedom from our leaders, who in turn are seeking further control and censorship of the Internet.
Copyright theft and infringement if intellectual properties can never be justified, but it would be unreasonable to expect us to surrender our privacy to do it. Let us remember too that it was the UK government’s lack of funding that allowed our broadband to become one of the poorest in the developed world, outranked by Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Spain and Portugal. Let us also remember the undemocratic way the Digital Economy Act was rammed through parliament in the ‘washed up’ period, around the same time our MPs (some of whom are now facing prison sentences) were too busy lining their pockets with taxpayer money as ‘expenses’ to even notice.
Let us consider who the real criminals are in this story, and ask : just who does has the right to look after the Internet, if not the people who use it and contribute meaningfully to it?