Sunday, November 29, 2009

A picture of the future

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever."- George Orwell

It's and old joke to say that Nineteen Eighty-Four was supposed to be a warning, not a how-to book. Or perhaps it's an old warning to say that Nineteen Eighty-Four was supposed to be a warning, not a how-to book. Whatever, it's true, but the British government is still working its way through Orwell's classic with DIY gusto.

The Britosphere has noticed that the newly introduced Digital Economy Bill has a couple of problems.

It's entirely based on the assumption that copyright infractions are a form of theft (which is debatable); it puts forward a framework in which people who are accused of downloading or uploading works are automatically guilty without due process; it throws entire households off the internet (which these days is tantamount to throwing whole households off the water mains or the power grid); and it enables an entire network of spying on the internet uses of everyone in Britain - actually, it *mandates* spying, since ISPs will be forced to do it.

BoingBoing says:

The British government has brought down its long-awaited Digital Economy Bill, and it's perfectly useless and terrible. It consists almost entirely of penalties for people who do things that upset the entertainment industry (including the "three-strikes" rule that allows your entire family to be cut off from the net if anyone who lives in your house is accused of copyright infringement, without proof or evidence or trial), as well as a plan to beat the hell out of the video-game industry with a new, even dumber rating system (why is it acceptable for the government to declare that some forms of artwork have to be mandatorily labelled as to their suitability for kids? And why is it only some media? Why not paintings? Why not novels? Why not modern dance or ballet or opera?).
So it's bad. £50,000 fines if someone in your house is accused of filesharing. A duty on ISPs to spy on all their customers in case they find something that would help the record or film industry sue them (ISPs who refuse to cooperate can be fined £250,000).

But that's just for starters.

Steven Grant of Permanent Damage calls this fascism. (Rant starts about half way down the long post):

Thing is, once this principle gets established, what else do they decide they can grant dictatorial powers over, complete with private armies to compel obedience and no legal recourse? By the way, I'm not playing fast and loose with the word fascism here; fascism is corporate government, not only structured like a corporation with orders raining down from the man on top to be fulfilled by various levels of "employees" (i.e. citizens, who in fascism are considered the property of the state, which is how British citizens have customarily been viewed by their state throughout British history) but serving the needs and desires of corporations over the needs of the citizens. The "Digital Economy Bill" is, pure and simple, about testing the reach of power, and what the public will tolerate. It's a time-tested fact that populations will become accustomed in times of "crisis" – and everything now is positioned as "crisis" – to practices previously thought unacceptable, but that once the formerly unacceptable becomes accepted, it gets applied to new contexts, on the theory that what's acceptable in one circumstance ought to be acceptable in a similar circumstance. Guess who gets to determine what constitutes a similar circumstance? Hint: it's not you or me.

Charlie Stross froths at his blog:

Want to publish a piece of shareware over BitTorrent? You're fucked, mate: all it takes is a malicious accusation and your ISP (who are required to snitch on p2p users on pain of heavy fines) will be ordered to cut off the internet connection to you and everyone else in your household. (A really draconian punishment in an age where it's increasingly normal to conduct business correspondence via email and to manage bank accounts and gas or electricity bills or tax returns via the web.) Oh, you don't get the right to confront your accuser in court, either: this is merely an administrative process, no lawyers involved. It's unlikely that p2p access will survive this bill in any form — even for innocent purposes (distributing Linux .iso images, for example).
This bill isn't about securing our creative industries. It's about fucking the little guys, depriving them of channels to reach their public, and about protecting the cartel of big media organizations who are threatened by the development of the public internet. And it stinks from the head down.

This all makes me glad I no longer live there. American politics - and general American privilege - can be a pain in the neck, but the public as a whole here is a bit less likely to roll over. The standard American way to enhance government control is to introduce a bill that's twice as absurdly intrusive as it needs to be, at which the public boils over, froths, writes its Congressman etc. and then a watered-down bill is passed which does what the government needs it to do to keep the public poor and ill-informed.

The standard British model is to introduce a bill which really is a boot stamping on a human face forever, at which the entire journalistic contingent of the nation will rise as one and write articles on agreeable wines, recipes with rocket and blue cheese, nice cars and whether $reality_show_face_1 really does or does not hate $reality_show_face_2. A thousand crusties will march on the Houses of Parliament and be roundly ignored, and then the bill will pass as read.

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