Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Liberal Democrats fight threat to Internet freedom

It seems that press coverage of Sunday's proceedings in Birmingham was monopolised by the leader's speech. One has to go to the blogosphere (e.g. Lynne Featherstone and Liberal Democrat Voice) to read of an equally important proceeding, the passing of emergency motion F19.

The threat was that, under the provisions of the Digital Economy Bill, a government minister - in practice, probably a middle-ranking Home Office civil servant - could close down an Internet Service Provider if there was a whiff of a breach of copyright. The pressure to include these powers had clearly come from the big record and movie production companies, but it doesn't take much imagination to see how they could be misused to suppress political comment as well. Their Lordships passed an amendment, sponsored by Liberal Democrats among others, to ensure that the power could only be exercised after the courts had intervened. Lord Clement-Jones explained the reasoning here.

But we decided that even this was too heavy-handed. There were significant contributions from a content provider, Neville Farmer, and David Matthewman, a man who, among other things, devised anti-piracy measures for other web-site owners. These two might have been expected to oppose the motion, but were enthusiasts for it.

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