July 07, 2011 | Jim Killock

Meeting with Ed Vaizey: website blocking and censorship

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.