Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Digital Death Penalty and the future of civil rights

There's quite some shakeup happening in the european lawmaking. A massive attack on civil rights is being pushed through by copyright enforcement entities. Trials such against the Pirate-Bay are showing that the fine line of hosting content or having a link to a content is not understood by low level judges. This would mean google could be sued for anything illegal you could find over it. And there's always something to be found. So google should be banned. Would that make sense to you? To me it doesn't but exactly those rules where used against the Pirate Bay.

But there's more changes happening. The Cybercrime convention as I wrote in my last blog entry is a time bomb which will go off at some point if not acted upon as well.

And the french are trying to run the 3 strikes rule for file sharer. This means if you get cought 3 times doing illegal filesharing, you will be disconnected from the internet. No questions asked.

Now at first this makes some sense. Remove the person the ability to do something illegal. Similar to take someone's weapon away so he can not do harm with it. But there is one thing which is getting forgotten. The internet for a "filesharer" is not just a tool to do filesharing. It has become a necessity of life. You can not send/receive emails without internet. You can in some cases not follow your public rights. In some cases its used for governmental use. So someone who can no longer access the internet is basically loosing a lot of civil rights. Think 20 years down the road. We might vote for presidents over the internet. Someone who had done something stupid in his childhood will still be banned from the net and can not participate. Even today, electronic banking rules everywhere. I predict in 2 years time you might no longer be able to pay your bills over the counter, or at least not without big problems and/or costs.

Now think about the 3 strikes rule again. This filesharer who has violated copyright 3 times when he was maybe 18 years old is now 40. He can not pay any bills electronically, he can not vote, he can not learn. This is what some people call the "Digital Death Penalty".

Is this penalty really the correct way to handle this?

Now to make the case a bit worse, the french president Sarcosy thinks it's ok to block access to "unlawful" internet content without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities. (see http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/Campaign-Save_amendment_138_and_Internet_Freedom_from_Council_of_EU).

Now think again. I open a book publishing company tomorrow. And because I hate my neighbor, I will just blindly accusing him, he is sharing copies of my books. No judge needed, he gets blocked. I do this 3 times and he would be punished for life.

Even though this sounds like a far away example, you can imagine what powerful companies like the IFPI would do just because they think you have done something bad to them by pointing a URL to a file hosted by someone else. They could basically make you dissapear from the digital life. In my personal case, this would mean loosing my job 100%, loosing all my income with no ability to ever work inside the business.

Can this be right?

And a last thing is threatening Europe. Privacy in the internet is being melting down. Politicians in germany are using the "child pornography theme" to show that there is a major issue in the internet and that we need mechanisms to ban websites. They believe every ISP must install devices which support blocking websites. While everyone agrees that child pornography is bad and should be punished, some politicians think that blocking the access to the websites solves the problem. But its not. A list of blocked sites from Australia have shown that the sites they have blocked there have been still alive for months. A german newspaper has tried to fix this and has called the ISP in USA to find out what's the status. The site dissapeared within hours. So if its so easy to bring down childporn websites (and believe me the US police will prosecute such cases quickly), why to install all those devices to block access to sites which then can be so easy get around? Just to push to sell the boxes can not be the reason. The real reason is somewhere else. It gives the government the ability to block anything they dont want anyone to see. It gives them a tool to bypass juristical procedures. The example from Australia also has shown that one dentists website was on the blocking list. Why? because someone has hacked his computer. This problem was fixed long ago but he still resided on the blocking list. Why? Because no one told him he was on this list. So he got punished twice. He had to reformat his computer and reinstall everything and then no one could look at his website without him knowing that's the case. And he had no way of appealing to any decision.

What does this say to us? There are industries who do heavyweight lobbying to establish laws which allow to block any content someone likes without even a judge looking at it. Laws to bring down filesharers without a judge looking into it and to permanently ban them. Laws to enforce blocking devices, laws to make sure privacy is no longer existing in the internet so the potentially bad guys can be punished in advance.

In other words, the old fashioned music industry who is loosing its business is trying to convince us that its correct to leave child porn websites alone and instead use censorship to control our universe. They apparently have the money to pay expensive attorneys, to pay politicians and even french presidents to vote in their sense.

Just because they have the wrong business model we should pay this bill?

No. Stand up and make your voice heard.

To remind you what is at stake:

Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Art. 11

the right to “receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority".

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