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July 07, 2011 | Jim Killock

Meeting with Ed Vaizey

ed vaizeyFollowing the many letters sent to MPs, and criticism concerning the broad and unbalanced proposals presented by rights holders, Ed Vaizey asked to meet ORG to discuss website blocking. Graham Smith, author of Internet Law and Regulation, was present at our invitation to clarify any legal pointsthat came up.

Like all such meetings, yesterday's meeting was short, and we couldn’t get into the level of detail we might have liked, outlined in our briefing note. However there were some very important things that were apparent.

Firstly, it was clear that the raft of dangerous proposals currently being pushed in the USA are having the effect of legitimising such ideas in the UK. After all, if the US does it, why not the UK?

Secondly, to his credit, Ed Vaizey recognises the importance of the softer measures to reduce infringement, such as legal services. However, he may not appreciate the dangers of trying to make ISPs the default providers of content, like music or films, which seems to be how DCMS view the future of the Internet.

Thirdly, DCMS is not in the habit of thinking about the Internet as something that has human rights and other public interest concerns. Rather, discussions that have been taking place are regarded as commercial enabling. Aside from potential competition issues, when those discussions stray off arranging business deals and into website censorship, filtering and blocking, then there are clear public interest concerns, and the discussions must be held in public.

Ed mentioned the IWF as a form of website blocking that we all accept and people think works. We answered that the IWF if very exceptional, as most people do not wish to view child abuse images: blocking with the consent of the user is much easier than blocking which is seen as illegitimate.

Fourthly, as reported elsewhere, Ed Vaizey seems to have the impression that people only get worked up about free speech when copyright and downloading is the core issue. Perhaps what he not appreciating is that it is copyright holders who are pushing to create the mechanisms of control hardest and fastest, and it is the entertainment industries who will, if they get their way, turn the Internet into a controlled, limited, and censorship-prone medium.

We are already aware of proposals to censor in relation to adult material, hate speech and extremism. After all, if BT and ISPs have the technology, then why not? If it doesn’t work perfectly, at least it does something. Something must be done, let’s do something.

Unfortunately, when blocking will disrupt the free flow of information, disrupt and reduce innovation, fail to address the problem, and create a plethora of common evasion tools and a ‘darknet’, then you have a very clear case as to “why not”.

Please email your MP, and ask them to sign EDM 1913.

 

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Comments (16)

  1. Dominic Jones:
    Jul 07, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    I got a reply from my MP on this issue.

    'Thank you for contacting me recently regarding EDM 1913 on the issue of internet disconnections and blocking. Whilst I have some sympathy with those who argue that big corporate players would be in a position of strength in relation to any extension of blocking, I also think that individual artists and authors have a right to stop their property being stolen'
    then he includes a copy of Ed Vaizeys response.

    I guess that was a 'NO i will not sign it' then?

  2. Jim Killock:
    Jul 07, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    It may be worth pointing out that the EDM purely seeks to assess these proposals for human rights considerations, which is utterly reasonable and unobjectionable. Even advocates of blocking should seek to place these measures in a human rights framework: unless they are admitting that they can't get what they want without violating human rights.

  3. Adam Gurney:
    Jul 07, 2011 at 01:04 PM

    I received the following from my MP, Richard Graham, I'm not sure whether to take it as a good or a bad response:

    "Thank you for emailing me about web blocking.

    Digital copyright infringement is a big problem in the UK and poses a very real threat to Britain’s hugely successful creative industries. Aside from ethical concerns, it undermines creative expression and has the potential to seriously affect British jobs and the country’s economic recovery.

    I understand illegal file-sharing costs the industry £400m a year. To help combat this problem, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked Ofcom to review whether website blocking measures are workable. This review follows on from the public responses to the Deputy Prime Minister’s ‘Your Freedom’ consultation which was designed to give people a chance to tell Government which laws and regulations they think should be amended or revoked.

    I know Mr Hunt and his departmental colleagues are aware of the Special Rapporteur's report. Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has confirmed that the Government agrees with the individual right to free and uncensored access to the internet and that states should only interfere in exceptional circumstances. The Government also agrees that the degree of interference should be proportionate to the risks involved. Mr Vaizey has stated that such measures should not be adopted lightly and that the Government will only do so if convinced that it is appropriate, proportionate, in accordance with international legal obligations and effective on the basis of evidence in the future. The Government has responded to the Human Rights Council, welcoming the Special Rapporteur's report and supporting the general thrust of his conclusions and recommendations. The Government will continue to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Government is now considering the Ofcom review before deciding on the best way forward."

    On one hand it's the usual "we have to save the internets from itself!" plea from the industry lobbyists, on the other it supports the efforts and beliefs of the UN statement; can anyone figure out if there is anything of worth in this claim?

    1. Jim Killock:
      Jul 07, 2011 at 02:29 PM

      Yes, equivocal, certainly. Leaving the door open for either approach; it's a boiler plate reply, and therefore worth following up with your own response and further questions.

    2. Jim Killock:
      Jul 07, 2011 at 05:19 PM

      Response points to this letter could be something like this:

      (1) Evidence of scale of harm is important, but non-existent. Industry figures, which are being accepted as fact, are based on unpublished methodologies. Academic studies generally find costs to industry as small or negligible. This means we should seriously question the priority being given to these initiatives, especially in contrast to efforts to develop legal online markets.

      (2) It's heartening to see the government listening to the rapporteur, but he made a concrete recommendation to repeal the disconnection clauses of the DEA. It would be very interesting to know what you think about this.

      (3) The EDM itself is simply a recommendation for Parliament to examine current proposals for more website blocking, and disconnection legislation in the DEA, on the basis of the Special Rapporteur's report. It is therefore a very moderate motion, we would be easy to support, and your signature would be very welcome.

      (4) As someone with XXX background, i would be very happy to supply you with more information on this or other digital rights issues, if you would find that helpful.

  4. Felix:
    Jul 07, 2011 at 03:39 PM

    Dear Mr DarkNerd,

    Thank for your email of the 6th June concerning ISP level content filtering.

    I am taking up the points you have raised with the relevant Minister of State and I will of course come back to you when I have received a response.

    Yours sincerely,

    Nicholas Soames

    The Hon Nicholas Soames MP
    House of Commons
    London
    SW1A 0AA

    1. Felix:
      Jul 11, 2011 at 03:07 PM

      Dear Constituent,

      Thank you for contacting me about web blocking

      Digital copyright infringement is a big problem in the UK and poses a very real threat to Britain's hugely successful creative industries. Aside from ethical concerns, it undermines creative expression and has the potential to seriously affect British jobs and country's economic recovery.

      I understand illegal file-sharing costs the industry £400m a year. To help combat this problem, the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt MP, has asked Ofcom to review whether website blocking measures are workable. This review follows on from the public responses to the Deputy Prime Minister's 'Your Freedom' consultation which was designed to give people a chance to inform Government which laws and regulations they think should be amended or revoked.

      I know that the Secretary of State and his Departmental colleagues are aware of the Special Rapporteur's report. Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, has confirmed that the Government agrees with the individual right to free and uncensored access to the internet and that States should only interfere in exceptional circumstances. The Government also agrees that the degree of interference should be proportionate to the risks involved. The Minister has stated that such measures should not be adopted lightly and that the Government will only do so if convinced that it is appropriate, proportionate, in accordance with international legal obligations and effective on the basis of evidence in the future.

      The Government has responded to the Human Rights Council, welcoming the Special Rapporteur's report and supporting the general thrust of his conclusions and recommendations. The Government will continue to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Government is now considering the Ofom review before deciding on the best way forward.

      Thank you again for taking the time to get in touch.

      Yours sincerely,

      Nicholas Soames

  5. Jan Bloemendal:
    Jul 09, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    I received the following from Stephen Mosley (MP Chester):

    “Thank you for emailing me about web blocking and EDM 1913.

    “Digital copyright infringement is a big problem in the UK and poses a very real threat to Britain’s hugely successful creative industries. Aside from ethical concerns, it undermines creative expression and has the potential to seriously affect British jobs and the country’s economic recovery.

    “I understand illegal file-sharing costs the industry £400m a year. To help combat this problem, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked Ofcom to review whether website blocking measures are workable. This review follows on from the public responses to the Deputy Prime Minister’s ‘Your Freedom’ consultation which was designed to give people a chance to tell Government which laws and regulations they think should be amended or revoked.

    “I know Mr Hunt and his departmental colleagues are aware of the Special Rapporteur's report. Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has confirmed that the Government agrees with the individual right to free and uncensored access to the internet and that states should only interfere in exceptional circumstances. The Government also agrees that the degree of interference should be proportionate to the risks involved. Mr Vaizey has stated that such measures should not be adopted lightly and that the Government will only do so if convinced that it is appropriate, proportionate, in accordance with international legal obligations and effective on the basis of evidence in the future.

    “The Government has responded to the Human Rights Council, welcoming the Special Rapporteur's report and supporting the general thrust of his conclusions and recommendations. The Government will continue to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Government is now considering the Ofcom review before deciding on the best way forward.

    “I regret that I am unwilling to sign this EDM but await with interest the Government’s proposals, which, I understand, are to be announced shortly.”

    With the exception of the final sentence it is identical to Richard Graham’s reply to Adam Gurney! Clearly this prepared statement must be circulating amongst certain MPs. Not much evidence of considered independent thinking, and not what I expect from my MP.

    1. Jim Killock:
      Jul 09, 2011 at 01:35 PM

      Definitely a chance to follow up with a personal reply, some advice here: http://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/EDM_1913_Standard_Response

      1. Jan Bloemendal:
        Jul 09, 2011 at 03:04 PM

        Many thanks. Follow up drafted, printed and ready to post.

  6. G:
    Jul 13, 2011 at 03:27 PM

    I suppose one could take it as positive that our democratically elected representatives are singing from the same sheet... but I'm afraid I find it disappointing that it's more a case of cutting and pasting from the same memo.

    I guess few people ever accuse MPs of original thought with good reason.

    Thank you for contacting Claire (Perry) about web blocking to which she has asked me to reply.

    Claire believes that digital copyright infringement is a big problem in the UK and poses a very real threat to Britain’s hugely successful creative industries. Aside from ethical concerns, it undermines creative expression and has the potential to seriously affect British jobs and the country’s economic recovery.

    Claire understands illegal file-sharing costs the industry £400m a year and, to help combat this problem, the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has asked Ofcom to review whether website blocking measures are workable. This review follows on from the public responses to the Deputy Prime Minister’s ‘Your Freedom’ consultation which was designed to give people a chance to tell Government which laws and regulations they think should be amended or revoked.

    Claire knows Mr Hunt and his departmental colleagues are aware of the Special Rapporteur's report on Free Expression. Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has confirmed that the Government agrees with the individual right to free and uncensored access to the internet and that states should only interfere in exceptional circumstances. The Government also agrees that the degree of interference should be proportionate to the risks involved. Mr Vaizey has stated that such measures should not be adopted lightly and that the Government will only do so if convinced that it is appropriate, proportionate, in accordance with international legal obligations and effective on the basis of evidence in the future.

  7. daniel:
    Jul 19, 2011 at 11:47 AM

    i got a reply from my mp for darlington = jenny chapman (labour)

    saying

    dear daniel

    thank you for writing to me and letting me know your views on the digital economy act

    i have signed edm 1913 'the disconnection of internet users' in light of the report published by the united nations special rapporteur on free expressions, frank da la rue

    i belive we should address the criticisms of the digital economy act and debate the concerns highlighted by frank de la rue i agree therefore that it is necessary that the government and appropriate parliamentary committees should re-examine the digital economy act 2010 it is imprtant we get this legislation right

    thank you again for contacting me on this issue

    yours sincerely

    jenny chapman MP

  8. Roger:
    Jul 20, 2011 at 09:12 AM

    Just FYI, I got a reply from my MP, Bernard Jenkin. To see what he wrote read Richard Graham's letter, it's identical.



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