June 22, 2011 | Peter Bradwell

Rights holders' proposed voluntary website blocking scheme

From these links you can access what looks like the proposals for a voluntary website blocking scheme, apparently put forward by the Rightsholder Group engaged in Minister Ed Vaizey's roundtable discussions with ISPs and others.

The documents, sent to James Firth's blog, set out a dangerous voluntary scheme that would involve 'expedited court procedures' and a 'balance' between evidence and speed of action. Definitions of what content is to be judged blockable is scarce. References to exactly how such blocking would work, and the consequences, are non-existent. The case for blocking is left unmade, with no analysis about the effects of such measures. There is cursory reference to the rule of law and proper oversight. The proposal, if it is the genuine proposal, adds up to a dangerous revocation of the rule of law where lobby groups would decide what you are allowed to see and read.

This is why the UN Special Rapporteur sounded his 'alarm' at measures such as this so recently. And this is why we are asking people to write to their MP to request they sign EDM 1913, which calls for the government to take on board what the UN have said and reconsider the Digital Economy Act and its many proposed website blocking schemes.

We support James Firth in revealing what look to be the substantive details of these discussions. It is critical that policy making happens through a broad and open public debate, especially on matters that so tangibly affect rights such as access to information and freedom of expression. This is not simply about the rights of 'sites that facilitate infringement' or those running them. It is about the processes through which decisions are made about what you are allowed to see and do. Clumsy, quasi-judicial and unaccountable website blocking is dangerous for exactly that reason. And that is why we support James, and are making the documents available here for you to consider and debate.

We would like confirmation from the government that these are genuine proposals which they are actively considering. We would also like to know what steps they will be taking to consider the views of organisations such as Open Rights Group, and those others who recently wrote to rights holders expressing their concern and requesting such proposals are made public.

So far these discussions have involved only rightsholders and Internet companies. Only the most recent meeting involved a consumer rights representative, Consumer Focus. (As Jim blogged yesterday, Consumer Focus' response to the proposals they discussed is here). This is a welcome concession. But open policy making that takes on board the broadest range of views is not something within the gift of politicians but a responsibility they bear.

If you would like to get involved, please write to your MP now and ask them to sign EDM 1913, proposed by the MPs Julian Huppert, Tom Watson, Robert Halfon and Eric Joyce. The EDM calls on the government to note the damning UN report as it considers the Digital Economy Act and these website blocking proposals. Help maintain the pressure that is mounting on these ill-considered measures.