As a Canadian concerned with corporate subversion of democracy, I watched a good bit of the BBC democracy live coverage of the United Kingdom’s ill conceived Digital Economy Bill, known around the world by the acronym #DEBill, being made hastily into law.
Earlier in the year there were great howls of protest from Canadians as Prime Minister Stephen Harper prematurely prorogued parliament as a means of deflecting hard questions about Canadian involvement in torture overseas. Prorogation in Canada means that all the unfinished legislation is tossed out, and is usually done just before an election. Canadians were quite upset about this abuse of democracy, and a result has been the politicizing of a good number of previously apolitical citizens which in retrospect may well be regretted by those in power.
The UK also has prorogation, but before applying it their government can fast track laws in progress during a process called “wash-up” Traditionally in the past, only uncontroversial laws have been rushed through during wash-up, as the alternative is to have to start over from the very beginning at the next session of parliament. But this time, the Digital Economy Bill has been rushed through even through it is not only controversial but riddled with serious deficiencies which will result in sweeping changes to UK democracy.
I also spent a bit of time trying to follow #DEBill on twitter yesterday but there were so many people doing the same it was going so fast and freezing up, it seemed that #DEBill nearly killed twitter. Looking at it today there is still a great deal of activity there.
I think it is sickening that the UK MPs dismissed thousands of protests from constituents. There were thousands of signatories to the talktalk petition as well as some 20,000 individual letters of protest received by the government. According to MP Bradshaw, these communications were trumped by paid advertising (I believe by trade unions) which supposedly represented other constituents.
Only twenty thousand emails from the actual members of the trade unions supporting the DEBill should be able to counter balance twenty thousand constituent protests.
But I doubt that they could marshal that much support from the rank and file of the unions, particularly as many would understand the issues. The corporate media interests behind DEBill are in fact in a position to apply economic blackmail to many of these people as well. You know the kind of thing… support our business model, or don’t bother coming to work in the morning. This is why a great many of those opposed to this law daren’t say anything publicly against it. It is also why a key tool of democracy is a secret ballot.
Supposedly democratic representatives seem to do the same thing the world over. Our representatives seem to consider citizens less important than corporate special interests. Has democracy gone full circle? Are citizens are back to being voiceless serfs while corporations are the new nobility allowed by the government to rape and pillage at will? All because corporations give vast sums to political parties so they can advertise themselves into office? Are funds more valuable than votes?
It was glaringly obvious that the people pushing the Digital Economy Bill through do not actually understand what it is that they are legislating. This is clearly apparent in this letter from the Right Honorable Stephen Timms MP of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. The Digital Economy Bill was pushed through by MPs like Timms who think that the “IP” in “IP Addess” means “Intellectual Property” when in fact it means “Internet Protocol”. I would have expected the UK government would have made an effort to understand the issues before pushing it through to appease corporate pressure.
Worse is that they are taking the allegations made by corporate special interest groups on faith while completely ignoring the opinions of informed constituents.
There were a small minority of MPs who clearly understood what is happening, particularly Tom Watson, who not only worked hard to fight against the Digital Economy Bill, but amazingly conversed live with constituents via twitter during the course of the 3rd reading.
There was this lovely little Twitter initiative called What Digital Economy Bill? #debill When I first saw it yesterday it had less than 100 signatures.
The idea is to tweet:
“I choose not to recognise the UK’s Digital Economy Bill #whatdebill #debill http://whatdebill.org”
Or you can just use the #whatdebill hashtag, and you will be added to the list. Today when I looked just now it was up to:
5,392 Twitter users have declared that
they do not recognise the Digital Economy Bill (#debill)
All the UK political parties seem to have participated in allowing this travesty to become law.
Whether it is because there are computer illiterates in every party or the pressure from the corporate interests was so strong it is hard to say. The point is that computer use and internet access has long since ceased being a luxury; how governments treat the internet will have a huge impact on the country’s economic future.
A huge irony here is that within the confines of this same Digital Economy Bill the UK government is both endeavoring to put more and more government services online as a cost saving measure, while making it possible to summarily cut off citizens by the houseful (or university full) from the internet on the basis of unproven allegations.
I myself do not belong to a political party. I have on occasionally said nice things about political parties when they do good things (and not nice things when they don’t). In general, I dislike the idea of political parties. I have this idea that the people I elect should act in my best interests, but when there is a political party they are often made to act in the party’s best interests ahead of those of their constituents. As a citizen in a supposed democracy I reserve the right to vote for the candidate I believe will do the most good.
That said, in light of the Digital Economy Bill travesty, were I a UK citizen I would be seriously considering joining the UK Pirate Party right about now. Contrary to what the Media companies and political parties in power want you to believe, the Pirate Parties that have been springing up in just about every country in the world do not advocate lawlessness, but rather thoughtful participatory copyright law reform. The PPUK had some excellent articles about DEBill deficiencies. Like the Canadian Pirate party, they seem to be shy about trying to raise donations, I expect largely for the same reason; they are mostly young enough to believe that being right should be enough. Unfortunately it costs money just to sign up a candidate to run for office, and according to their website’s front page they are short a whopping £4,500 to go into the General Election that has forced the DEBill’s high speed scrutiny-free passage.
Check them out. They’ve got some very good ideas. In a world dominated by the internet, wouldn’t it be terribly brilliant to actually have an MP or two who actually understand the technology.
Many UK citizens are clearly incensed, and, being computer literate internet aware citizens, they are using tools.
Tools like online articles:
The Pirate Party UK:
Pirate Party Slams Lack of Democracy in Digital Economy Bill
Charles Arthur’s Guardian article:
Internet provider defies digital bill, about UK ISP Talk Talk who have been fighting hard against DEBill from the beginning.
Tools like blogs:
Who voted NO?, which is the one that started me writing a comment that mushroomed into this blog post
Tools to show you who bothered to show up, how they voted:
And even tools to allow you to watch the video of the DEBill proceeding and comment on it:
And of course all of these tools help expatriots and foreigners like myself by identifying the participants. It helps us understand as we follow along and watch the UK government undo centuries of British Jurisprudence.
The Register: Mandybill: It ain’t over yet says that it does in fact go back to the House of Lords for a final vote tonight so it is not actually law just yet. Maybe the UK won’t end up saddled with a next generation DMCA. Maybe the UK won’t be the opening act for ACTA after all. And even if the Lords “nod it through” as everyone seems to expect, Maybe DEBill can be an election issue, perhaps even revisited right after before too much damage is done.
The government seems to have been persuaded that these laws are necessary for economic necessity. In fact, by pushing the DEBill through in the face of so much opposition, it is entirely possible that the citizen backlash will be extraordinary, and in fact may well reroute the stream of UK entertainment income largely into the black market. Just from glancing at the twitter feed thousands of citizens who would not have dreamt of breaking the law yesterday are looking at doing so seriously today as a political protest.
It would not at all surprise me if people who have never so much as jaywalked start buying bootleg disks exclusively. And every time the law clamps down on kids who were not legally criminals yesterday, families who might have agreed in principal with the DEBill yesterday will certainly oppose it tomorrow.
[p.s. A great many people are upset and looking for ways to fight against this bad law that has been so undemocratically foisted on them.
Read the comments anywhere. Torrent Freak for instance: Digital Economy Bill Passes, File-Sharing Ends Soon
The problem of course is that encryption will not not stop government intervention. In Canada the backbone Bell Canada ISP has been “throttling” (actually impeding via forged reset packets) specifically the internet traffic it believes to be p2p on the erroneous assumption that all p2p traffic is copyright infringement, which just is not so. They are also impeding any encrypted traffic on the assumption that it too is p2p. You are assumed guilty and you have to prive to them you are not engaging in p2p traffic. Another example of guilty until you prove yourself innocent.
I would really like this site:
What should we do in response to the Digital Economy Bill?,
BUT one can only vote, comment and possibly add their own ideas after providing identifiable information in order to sign up. Kind of defeats the purpose when you’re advising people to: