Internet body opposes policing role

The body representing internet service providers has cast doubt on the viability of government proposals to make them responsible for identifying and punishing illegal music and video downloaders.

Taking a leaf from France’s legislative book, a green paper to be published next week will contain plans to waive privacy rights for internet users transferring large amounts of data.

It follows campaigns by the music and film industry to protect copyrights and clamp down on internet piracy, blamed for the slump in CD and DVD sales.

ISPs would be responsible for monitoring heavy users and identifying those involved in swapping large data files of music and video.

But the Internet Service Providers’ Association opposes the idea that it should take responsibility. “ISPs are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the Post Office is able to open every envelope,” it said.

“ISPs deal with many more packets of data each day than postal services and data protection legislation actually prevents ISPs from looking at the content of the packets sent.”

James Bates, media director at Deloitte, said ISPs could do more. “Technology, such as deep packet inspection, which enables ISPs to monitor what content is being downloaded, is likely to become more effective and more frequently used.”

Patrick Charnley, solicitor with Eversheds, said the plans could be difficult to implement. “How, for example, would an ISP deal with a person downloading legal peer-to-peer content?

“If an ISP has to monitor exactly what each user is doing on sites normally known for their illegal content, not only may this be an unacceptably onerous task, but it may also land the ISPs on the wrong side of privacy law.” The French example must be closely watched.

Jean Berbinau, the general secretary of the Autorité de Regulation des Mésures Techniques, charged with drawing up the French law, welcomed the UK move, saying: “It is of course very important to have other important European countries step in … this is the right time for us to learn [that the UK is taking similar measures].”

Bodies representing the music industry such as Ifpi, formerly the International Federation of Phonographic Industries and the BPI, or British Phonographic Industry, applauded the proposals.

But the ISPs received support from commentators in the “blogosphere”. Michael Masnick, president of the US-based Techdirt, an analysts’ site, wrote: “Beyond shoving ISPs into the role of the entertainment industry’s police, judge, jury and jailer, it also is a legal solution to a business model problem.

“The entertainment industry is still unwilling to adapt its business model to the new distribution mechanisms of the internet.”

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