BCS says Digital Economy Bill must not be rushed

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, today called for further time and consideration to be taken over the Digital Economy Bill currently passing through Parliament. The Institute believes that the issues raised by proposals require a more measured approach and a wider public debate than current timetables allow, recognising the important progress stimulated through this Bill.

“This Bill could have huge consequences for online activity that are currently poorly understood” said Elizabeth Sparrow, President of the Institute. “The Institute is highlighting the importance of the Internet to citizenship, and the opportunities for everyone to participate. Those opportunities could be curtailed and even diminished if some of the proposals being discussed make it into law.”

The Institute fully supports proportionate action against online copyright infringement, as well as supporting many areas of fruitful and beneficial online activity that are increasingly vital. For example, on March 11, the Institute is examining how the online environment is affecting politics, as part of its ‘Savvy Citizen’ campaign aimed at encouraging and equipping citizens to participate online to their benefit.

“There is great potential for the Internet to positively engage people in political debate.” said Elizabeth Sparrow: “This is one of many ways in which access and capability online can enrich individuals, widening and deepening inclusion and participation in UK society. Our approach to legislation in the digital arena must take into account what is at stake now and in the future.”

Recent argument, comment and amendments to and around the Bill have included proposals that could radically affect the Internet in ways that are difficult to predict. The Institute is concerned that hasty decisions could increase digital exclusion and harm those most in need of and most positively affected by Internet access and capability. The potential onerous burdens placed on many small companies, schools and libraries may reduce access and availability to many of the vulnerable members of society who may well derive the greatest benefit. Recent comments from Peers have also highlighted the intense lobbying by interest groups around this issue. The Institute is concerned that these interest groups may be focussed on a narrow front, so wider societal issues may not be properly accounted for.

The Institute is therefore calling for wider public debate and time for this Bill, and would have grave reservations about any inclusion of this Bill in a Parliamentary ‘wash up’.

Despite this position, the passage of the Bill has been valuable in raising some of these fundamental issues. Copyright and the creative industries are important and must be supported, but not to the net detriment of society. In this case the Institute believes that better legislation later, is preferable to hurried legislation now.

The Institute is not looking to comment at this point in great detail, but examples of proposals that may have dangerous consequences include:

Unspecified powers to modify copyright legislation without full parliamentary scrutiny
Powers to block or take down websites based on allegations of copyright infringement
Classifications of ‘service providers’ and obligations placed upon them

All of these points have potential impact on access, availability and use of the Internet that may be unintended and highly detrimental. If policymakers accept that access, availability and use of the Internet is an important national issue, they should ensure that impacts of the Bill are fully understood before it is enacted.

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