The law and the internet aren’t exactly the best of friends, only recently the internet’s creator, Tim Bernes Lee, has called for an internet Bill of Rights to protect all those who use the internet and give people set rights for the online world. Now I am not arguing for the internet to be some completely free ‘do what you want’ social zone, internet fraud, botnets, and hacking all need to be controlled but the internet is a public domain and it is just that, public. The internet is in a way what you make of it, you can become famous on Twitter, build a business from nothing, and get discovered via YouTube, the internet holds no bounds but it has to hold no bounds within limits, like society.
Becoming rich via the internet because you stole credit card details or hacked a bank account wouldn’t be acceptable offline so it isn’t acceptable online but the people that partake in such crimes is tiny and placing restrictions on what sites can be viewed and what content can be portrayed harms everyone not just the culprits. We don’t place a whole town in jail because one of the population killed their neighbour.
Spying on what people view online, send online, receive online, and put online is an invasion of privacy. Hacking phones is an invasion of privacy, ask the News of the World, they know all about it, so accessing someone’s personal computer to see what they are doing online has to fall under the same area of law. Now we all know that governments like to use the “national security” argument, well do we get to see what the government is doing behind our backs because they seem to be the biggest threat to national security, how often do we hear after a bombing or murder that the police knew about the culprit(s) but just didn’t act. Why don’t they get out and arrest them before they blow up another bus instead of watching me watch funny cat videos on YouTube.
The thing about the internet is that when it is used for good reasons it is extremely powerful, look at the way we have postponed internet bills from being passed or exposed hidden extensions of power that are in the small print of a bill, the government don’t like this but what are they going to do? ‘This call to arms is a welcome one. The threats to the web’s future are myriad and varied. Last year, former National Security Contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. and British governments conduct internet surveillance at a massive scale. This year, a U.S. court struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s network neutrality rules. In China, the government still seeks to control internet access with its Great Firewall. And in places like Egypt, we’ve seen governments shut down the internet on occasions in an effort to prevent activists from spreading information and organizing protests.’ Governments around the world have tried to gain control of the internet but just as piracy has shown, even if you aren’t a fan, you can’t really control the internet as such, you block a site and a new one just pops up to replace it or people find a way around the block, internet service providers didn’t really want to comply, they complied because they had to by law but if someone regularly gets around their proxy they won’t act on it. Governments are helpless in this situation, the internet can’t be controlled, it can be policed by people like Microsoft who recently shut down the biggest botnet in the world, or at least started to with Kasperskey labs but more botnets will spring up, they aren’t fixing the problem, they have just dealt with another problem, these are not the same thing. Whereas laws for the physical world do deter crime, to some extent, in the online world you don’t have to reveal anything about yourself, you can create a completely new life from nothing! Look at the program catfish! The online and offline worlds are two different beasts and trying to control both in the same way won’t work, you need two different approaches. I don’t know what these are, I wouldn’t know where to begin, I know what needs to be stopped but saying that is the easy bit, the actual carrying out of this is the hard bit but this Internet Bill of Rights would be a good place to start, knowing your rights and what you are entitled to is always a good place to start.
Having made my initial thoughts clear and present it is only fair to now expand upon both sides of the argument to see what both sides, the government and the public, actually want to happen.
Let’s start with the Government. The Government set up GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) around World War II. The current ‘Who We Are’ page for GCHQ says the following “GCHQ is an intelligence and security organisation, working to keep Britain safe and secure in the challenging environment of modern communications.
Our heritage can be traced from the tremendous achievements in signals intelligence at Bletchley Park in World War II. We and our forerunner organisations served our country during both World Wars and then the Cold War. Today, we address a range of modern demands, dealing with threats from terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons and the resolution of regional conflicts around the world, as well as protecting the economic prosperity of the UK.
GCHQ is firmly part of the British Government – I attend the weekly National Security Council chaired by the Prime Minister. We work closely with colleagues from other government departments, UK armed forces serving abroad, and with our partners in the intelligence community, MI5 and Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
We work to the Foreign Secretary and are subject to scrutiny from Parliament, two senior judges and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on the legality, necessity and proportionality of our work. We are proud of being an organisation of high ethical standards and culture, embedded in the framework of British law.
We are a secret organisation. We cannot publish all that we do – it would compromise our operations and our capabilities.” Now this seems to be give them a lot of protection and room for kind of doing what they want however this room needs to be afforded to some. Now accountability is crucial to everything, no one can be seen to have unlimited power and the GCHQ are accountable to the Prime Minister who is accountable to the electorate so GCHQ are not uncontrollable, they just have a lot of freedom to do what needs doing to get the Job done but this still leaves the question of our right to privacy and our freedoms.
In response to the questions asked about people’s rights and freedoms it is clear that without the power to snoop and look in to parts of a person’s private life the GCHQ and police would not be able to determine threats to the country and stop them from happening rather than hunting down culprits after disasters have happened. This power will help the country many times a day, not only will it help the country physically, for example identifying possible terror suspects or threats to lives, the power also allows GCHQ to determine cyber criminals, those that would attack people via their own computers and destroy their personal lives by fraud or blackmail. The country had a special cyber deterrent force for the 2012 Olympic Games because of the cyber traffic it draws from all over the world. GCHQ does not spy on everyone, random traffic is selected and a selection of sights that are believed to be connect to wrong doing are watched but that does not mean that GCHQ are constantly watching your every move. The invasion of privacy line can only be crossed under reasonable grounds of suspicion, they can’t just watch your every move because they want to.
GCHQ are just one topic of argument over how people believe the government are trying to restrict and interfere with people’s use of the internet. A second is that regarding the Digital Economy Act 2010. This Act was concerned with the copyright infringement of digital media via piracy sharing sites. Along with this Act coming in to force the Prime Minister, at the time David Cameron, got ISPs (internet service providers) to block a list of websites that had been connected to illegal file sharing of copyrighted material such as movies and music. It is worth noting that the section of the act, section 15, that allowed ISPs to block internet sites was repealed by judicial review but on the notion that copyright holders already had the ability to use Section 97 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act to take court action against websites. This list has grown overtime and will no doubt continue to grow but its effect has been minuscule.
The ninth annual global software piracy study found that ‘42%’ of people use pirated software. That equates to ‘$63 Billion’. Add in music, movies, e-books, TV shows and you will have over 50% of the world involved in pirated activity. Ubisoft announced in 2011 that they had a ’93-95%’ piracy rate on PC. Now as much some would argue the price of games nowadays is astronomical, especially in these economic times, companies do deserve to get paid for their work and that just shouldn’t be allowed to stand. This is where the Digital economy Act and various other Acts that have been previously mentioned come in to play, but do they? Blocking an internet site will deter the low level, low skill pirate but those that are accustomed to the seas that are the internet will be able to manoeuvre around the seemingly impenetrable sea storm with a simple proxie randomiser or proxie reverser. These will allow PCs using the ISPs that are blocking restricted websites to gain access very easily, imagine butting a disguise on your presence on the internet, you just walk straight past the guards. There are many websites that offer this service for free, making it look like you are from Spain, or China, or Japan, somewhere the ISPs over here have no jurisdiction and cannot block sites. These free and available tools mean that all the work the government has done is for nothing. These tools and many more that we are probably not aware of are what is still allowing pirates to steal the works of others for free.
Simply saying the action is wrong is not enough in the online world. These pirates have been working away and creating their backstreet’s if you will for many years. The government is the new kid on the block in this case and needs to catch up. Piracy will not stop because the government has prevented it, piracy will stop when no one wants to steal anymore and that’s the sad thing, some people argue that the law has to focus on not preventing it full stop but making it very hard to do so. Limiting the ability to pirate to only those that have a really high understanding of how to do so would be an easier more manageable goal, global piracy may be at 10% but that is better than 50% or more! Business will accept some people will never pay but by passing laws to make the option of pirating so remote, either financially or physically or by other means you are not stopping it but removing it as a viable option to many who currently do, limiting it to a very small skilled number of people.
If people were not paid for their days work then they would be unhappy so why do they see piracy as an acceptable action? By participating in piracy you are stealing money from people’s pay packets and cost people their jobs. This isn’t right and the law should do all it can to enforce that people are paid for the fruits of their labours, it is morally and legally right. Some would argue that removing the ability to visit websites of your choice that are known to help and promote pirate activity is a restriction of liberty. Is this also the case for websites that promote extremist views and encourage people to commit acts of terror, for example the 7/7 bus bombings. Removing and restricting these extremist websites was not met with any opposition but removing websites that help with stealing copyrighted material was met with fierce opposition.
The reason for restricting access to these websites is a clear and just one, it is making sure that people that work on games, music, TV shows and other forms of digital works are paid for their work. As for GCHQ spying on your activity, which is an invasion of privacy, but at the same time they can’t do it just because they want to, they need grounds for suspicion so if you have nothing to hide you won’t be investigated.
Having discussed the arguments for having legal intervention regarding the internet I shall now turn my attention to the arguments against legal intervention.
The internet is a public place. What you place on the internet can be shared millions of times across multiple sites thus creating a network of quick information and quick communication. A public place is a place that everyone has the right to enjoy and use so the internet again is a right everyone has a right to use. The government should not be restricting public places. People use various sites to express their opinions, their love for something or their displeasure with something, usually politics. Restricting these rights to free speech and freedom of association goes against the ECHR.
However recently a new idea has gathered momentum about why these restrictions and laws should not be put in to action. The notion goes that these restrictions are not needed, the pirates don’t want to pirate copyrighted material but due to the cost of the material they have no choice. The reason for piracy is accessibility. If accessibility was improved piracy would drop, it has dropped. Legislation would hinder the internet for decades and would be an overreaction.
Looking at Netflix shows how making material easily accessible lowers piracy rates. Piracy was fantastic for getting the content, software, eBook you wanted easily and quickly but Netflix offers a service where you get the content you want, movie or TV show, even easier and it doesn’t require you to store the content. ‘Since Netflix launched in Canada three years ago, piracy has dropped by a whopping 50 per cent’ this shows that when a good service is offered and the content is easily and quickly accessible people will buy it. This fundamental idea would quickly eat away at the number of people who participate in piracy. People don’t mind paying for good services but when people feel like they are being ripped off or creators of content are just throwing out anything to make money they will pirate it because they don’t want to pay for poor content. This is a perfectly understandable reaction and as Netflix has shown piracy can be combated against by developers and creators improving their services. This indicates that there is no need for the government to place laws upon the internet and restrict the content people can access. Yes some people will always pirate material but we always have murders taking place as well so no law is perfect in stopping crime from happening and removing people rights will have lasting implications to the internet and could drastically change its use.
A second service that has helped reduce piracy is that of Spotify. ‘Through quarterly surveys researchers have polled the music consumption habits of thousands of Swedes between the age of 15 and 74, and in their most recent report they find that music piracy continues to drop.
Since 2009 the numbers of people who download music illegally has decreased by more than 25 percent, and over the last year alone it dropped by 9 percent. The data further suggests that this downward trend is caused by the availability of improved legal services such as Spotify.’ This again shows how an improved service that offers quick, easy access to what people want will deter people from piracy. The government can do other things than legislate about the internet. Helping firms that are providing these alternative services either by tax breaks or financial support for them to expand and improve their own services, the government would do more to help the fight against piracy than restricting viewable websites.
A third type of service that is only just started to expand but has had a huge effect not just on piracy but also on computing as a whole is cloud computing. Many companies that suffer from piracy such as Adobe and Microsoft have launched cloud versions of their most pirated software. Both hope that by having cloud based version of their products, for Adobe that is the creative master suit and Microsoft’s Office 365, both companies will hope that people will willing to pay for the monthly or annual fees for instantly updated, products that don’t take up as much HDD space on your computer as they used to. Both companies offer a range of package that include the products being used on more than one computer meaning that everyone in a family can use the service. For example Microsoft office for a family of 5 computers is ‘£80’ a year in the cloud or £390 for one computer on disk. Cloud computing has drastically reduced the cost of new software and had made it more affordable to people meaning they don’t have to pirate the software they pay for it legally. This again shows how companies showing they are improving their services and trying to make their product as cheap as possible to then end consumer can reduce the piracy of their own product. Adobe has had fantastic success with its Adobe in the cloud service and has suspended any new disk releases of its products. The entire Master Collection, every program Adobe makes, for ‘£47 a month’. This collection on disk is £3,100. All of the cloud based programs have automatic updates meaning you don’t have to wait for updates to install you just open the updated app in the cloud and start working. Microsoft and Adobe also claim that working in the cloud reduces the security risks as well, meaning users have a safer experience with their products.
Overall the arguments for not introducing legislation to deal with piracy come down to that of people just wanting better services. Yes some people will continue to pirate but people will continue to break other laws and blocking internet sites because of a few people is a lot of hassle and would lead to claim of infringement of human rights. The easiest way for piracy to be stopped is by the developers, the people who are falling fowl of piracy, to simply step up their game.
To conclude, the government stepping in and restricting internet use not only wouldn’t be effective in stopping piracy it would be an ineffective use of resources. People would find a way round any blocks or restrictions that the ISPs would try to enact and piracy would continue. This would mean the restrictions and limitations brought in would only have an effect on those that weren’t using the internet for piracy in the first place. Intervention would essentially harm the innocent. A better tactic would be to not pass legislation on the matter or block sites but to remove the need for piracy by providing services that are better than piracy. People will pay for a good service, piracy exists because at the moment people feel there isn’t a service that is worth paying for.
 http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2014/03/web25/ accessed 3rd April 2014
 http://www.gchq.gov.uk/who_we_are/Pages/Welcome-to-GCHQ.aspx accessed 3rd April 2014
 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/09/18/netflix-canada-piracy-down_n_3947633.html accessed 3rd April 2014
 https://torrentfreak.com/music-piracy-continues-to-decline-thanks-to-spotify-110928/ accessed 3rd April 2014
 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Adobe-Creative-Suite-Master-Collection/dp/B007UXCQFC accessed 3rd April 2014