What Panorama didn’t talk about: our rights

Yesterday, I debated the Digital Economy Bill in front of law students and academics. The debate could not have been more different from last night’s Panorama.

Graham Smith of Bird & Bird outlined the legal situation. Then Richard Mollett of the BPI outlined his ‘top ten’ myths about the Digital Economy Bill, in a point by point attack on such well known radical critics as Liberty, Consumer Focus, JANET and the British Library. He did fail to mention that other group of political dissentors, MI5.

I then presented a series of points dealing with the extremity of disconnection as a punishment, and the stark contrast between this and how we treat gas, water and electricity. It is illegal to cut off water, companies go to extreme lengths not to disconnect any of these services, even offering reduced tariffs for the hard up.

The BPI is waging a war on every citizen in the country by demanding disconnection. Everyone’s rights are being curtailed in the name of their business interests. They are manipulating the political process and distorting the legislation that results.

They have gone so far as to suggest that politicians should evade democratic scrutiny of the Digital Economy Bill.

There are plenty of other corporate lobbyists that have manipulated politics before, of course. We might think of the oil industry, the motor lobby, tobacco giants, PFI lobbyists, Monsanto or pharmaceuticals.

What all these industry lobbies frequently share is a desire to act in their own interests against clear public interests. This is the path that the BPI and rights holders are choosing to take when they demand that citizen’s human rights are curtailed in order to better enforce their property rights, and appear to think that wider collatoral damage, such as backdoor censorship, chilling effects and the death of open wifi are acceptable.

This perspective was curiously underplayed in the Panorama broadcast yesterday. Instead, we mostly listened to a discussion between different musicians worrying about the future of their industry.

While that’s a concern – and the central concern of the BPI – our concern is our rights, democracy, and the future of our society, which is being built on the internet. We do not withdraw the basic tool of society without the most extreme reason. We certainly do not do such a thing without a massive public and democratic debate.

Please write to your MP – demand a debate – and tell everyone you know about this disgraceful Bill.