The Inquirer-Home

Web site blocking proposal leak is genuine

FOI request reveals confidential discussions
Thu Jul 21 2011, 12:56

THE OPEN RIGHTS GROUP (ORG) has revealed that a leak to James Firth from Slightly Right Of Centre of proposals to allow web site blocking for alleged copyright infringement is genuine.

The proposals would require internet service providers (ISPs) to block web sites accused of infringing copyright, and would even call for a fast response blocking scheme for things like live events.

This was heavily criticised by rights groups for its potential to circumvent due process and unfairly block web sites without giving them a chance to respond to and fight the allegations, which could have a significant negative impact on freedom of expression on the internet.

ORG filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to have the minutes of discussions between minister of communications Ed Vaizey and various internet bodies and copyright holders released. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport agreed to this request.

ORG criticised the blocking proposals, saying that internet service providers were considering restricting and controlling the internet for their own interests, thanks to the fact that many of them are now becoming content providers in their own right.

The group also slated the closed door way in which these discussions took place, and the fact that the documents were marked confidential, saying it "removes the ability of other people to contribute, raise concerns, or to simply object". ORG asked to attend the event originally, but was refused, which does not paint a very positive picture of the discussions.

ORG said that it believes that rights holders are redrafting the proposals at present, and it called on them to make these proposals public so that they can be openly discussed. It threatened to file further FOI requests if they decide to keep the information private.

109 MPs have called on the government to reconsider web site blocking, while the UN Special Rapporteur Report and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticised web site blocking for its potential to hinder freedom of expression.

The INQUIRER spoke with James Firth, who originally highlighted the discussions. He said he was "delighted" that the information was made public. "Bodies attempting to influence public policy should take heed - law is on the side of transparency and public scrutiny. The vibrant political and policy blogging scene helps uncover existence of such meetings, and [the Freedom of Information Act] then gives us visibility. Ed Vaizey and all ministers should now start to hold such meetings in open committee, as the [News of the World] scandal shows the dangers of secrecy." µ


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