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The Digital Economy Travesty

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Last night the House of Commons passed a Bill that shouldn't have been passed. There has been a lot written about the Digital Economy Bill but I'll just focus on three important points.

1) The Bill was deliberately pushed through in the least democratic way possible:

a) The Bill originated in the Lords (our unelected chamber), meaning that most of the debate happened there. Most of the focus of the public opposition to the Bill was with MPs (elected) in the Commons, where there was a very short time to debate the Bill.

b) The Bill was deliberately kept back until the last minute to take advantage of a process known as the wash-up. The Bill could have been brought before parliament three weeks ago - and the Commons has had spare time these past three weeks. Instead the Bill was held back so that it could be brought as part of the "wash-up" process. As John Redwood MP put it:
"Is it not an unprecedented discourtesy to the House of Commons for a Government to introduce the Second Reading of a substantial Bill after they have announced that we need a general election?"
Of course in Parliament they call it a discourtesy, but the reality is that this is a deliberate machination to suppress debate and bypass the democratic process. Just 236 out of 650 MPs turned up to vote and the majority of the Bill had no debate (most of the clauses were pushed through in the last 5 minutes of the third reading).

2) The complete disregard the major political parties showed for the public discontent 


Every MP is Britain has many letters about this from concerned voters. Even just before a General Election (when you would imagine MPs would show the most concern for voters) the result was negligible. Many backbench MPs spoke against the Bill, but the Front Bench and the whips ensured that the vote went through despite the public concern.

I personally find the process and the lack of democracy much more worrying than the actual Bill. Its a bad day for democracy in Britain.

3) The worst part of the Bill got the least discussion

The focus of the debate was mainly the disconnection orders - the ability of the entertainment industry to force ISPs to disconnect persistent filesharers. However, the worse part of the Bill is the part that used to be known as Clause 18. This will mean that ISPs can be forced to block certain websites that infringe copyright. The new amendment (that was passed) says:

"The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright."

Bizarrely this could include sites publishing information made available under the Freedom of Information Act. More importantly it could mean Wikileaks or similar sites being inaccessible in the United Kingdom. The wording as about as loose as possible. What is a site that "is likely to be used in connection with an activity that infringes copyright"? That could mean any website allowing you to download a web browser. This effectively legalizes internet censorship in Britain.

The most depressing thing was the insight into the decision making process of this country. I, like many others, ended up watching parliament in action for the first time. The result has left me with a strong realization that our concept of democracy is poor at best. I frankly wasn't that bothered by the expenses scandal - I thought the few MPs who had been fraudulent should be taken to court, but the rest was a storm in a teacup. I am much more depressed that parliament can pass bad laws in full view of a disbelieving public. That is much worse than the cost of a few padded expenses - it costs Britain its freedom.

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Published at DZone with permission of Paul Fremantle, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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