Last Modified:                                                                                                

Homepage / Publications & Opinion /

Too late Debill - P2P is already engrained in society
Whitehall is behind the times, leaving smug 'I told you so's' from industry
Written in my Weymouth hotel and dispatched to the next day using a commercial wi-fi service available from my seat on a ferry just about to set sail for the continent. This is unusual - even for me - but courtesy of a certain volcano in Iceland there are no flights available throughout Europe!

I just love the response time of the internet with new and innovative solutions that quickly sideline things that are ill-conceived and/or make no sense.

Over the past few months the UK government has been formulating a new law that seeks - among other things - to curtail peer-to-peer (P2P) activities. Are they behind the times or what?

Needless to say individuals, groups and much of the industry have been lobbying hard to dissuade them.

The overhead of implementation, and limited impact on a world that understands the power of P2P - and that DRM is as good as dead - means this legislation is out of kilter with reality. One major company has already declared it will not reveal or share any form of customer data under any circumstances. Feelings have been running high and the protest has been vigorous.

What makes this example really interesting is the rate and manner in which the will of the people and industry was finally subverted for some obscure political reason. This story from The Guardian puts it all in perspective.

In the dying moments of a parliament this act was pushed through within two hours. For the life of me I cannot see why the rush, or what the big deal was! Just focusing on one hot issue for a moment: 'A legal framework for tackling copyright infringement via education and technical measures'.

Does this really mean all net activity will have to be monitored, recorded, analysed, people identified and punishment administered? Apparently so! The threat is that ISPs will be mandated to terminate the service of anyone engaged in file swapping. Can you imagine? Here is an extract:

  • Copyright holders to report infringements to ISPs who must provide evidence and information about the legal situation
  • ISPs to provide copyright holders with infringement lists per user
  • Ofcom to report four times per year on copyright infringement activities
  • Government to sanction speed and site blocks, bandwidth shaping and account suspension
  • ISPs failing to apply tech measures can be fined up to 250,000
  • Copyright owners to pay Ofcom's costs
  • ISPs must pay their own costs of implementing technical measures
  • Government to install managers at failing domain name registries

At this point there is a lot I could write but I won't! Here is the fun bit...

Within five days of the vote on this law the first software packages designed to circumvent P2P file-swapping detection appeared on the web for free download.

Don't you just love it? Hundreds of futile political man hours ruined by one or two really smart individuals who were never consulted or engaged in the debate process in the first place. And a quietly smug industry with an 'I told you so grin' on its face!

Has this happened before? Oh yes! How about the Data Protection Act of 2008? Not only is this now largely ignored by individuals, groups, companies and institutions, it is regularly violated by government itself! In fact business seems to do a far better job of protecting our individual information than government. Why is this? Could it be that industry faces severe customer reaction, and a potential loss of business, while government faces no threat at all?

Interestingly, a few banks and institutions have been prosecuted for infringements and data leaks, but government has yet to take itself to court!

In the old world of the past, still inhabited by governments, it was all about hoarding and controlling information and resources to retain power. In the modern world it is about freedom, sharing, responding quickly, and leveraging networks of knowledge, ability and material.

P2P technology is now a part of modern society, and I don't see it quietly slipping away in the night under the shadow and threat of the legal system, I really don't!