14 February 2006

EU Data Privacy - forget it

Some of you may recall I wrote about the recording industry in Europe campaigning to have EU-wide anti-terrorist legislation to do with data protection modified to go after people it thinks might have copied music. The original article that got me incensed was over at The Register.

I felt strong enough to write to my MP - Martin Linton, Labour. I got a fairly quick response from Martin on this issue (and indeed I have done on other times I've written to him). Martin seemed to share my views and concerns and promised to bring it up with the appropriate minister.

Today, I received a letter from Martin enclosing the response he had received from the minister - Lord Sainsbury (yes, supermarkets etc) at the Department of Trade and Industry (alarm bells already starting - why is the DTI dealing with our privacy?). I will copy the letter in full here for your edification:

Thank you for your letter of 20 December to (person in his dept) enclosing correspondence from your constituent (me) concerning music piracy. I am replying as this matter falls within my portfolio.

The data retention Directive (sic) is needed to combat terrorism and serious crime. Communications data - providing evidence of associations between individuals and between events in time and place, and also providing evidence of innocence - has been vital in securing convictions, and the Directive helps ensure this data can be retained lawfully for the business of protecting the public when service providers have no need to keep it for their own business. This Directive does have implications of music piracy where that conduct is linked to serious organised crime, and there is some evidence of such links.

More generally intellectual property law needs to ensure that there is a fair balance between the interests of consumers and creators. Intellectual Property (IP) protection must make a positive contribution to competitiveness and economic growth whilst taking full account of the legitimate interests of consumers.

In considering the Commission's recent proposals ("IPRED2") to strengthen criminal sanctions to deal with intellectual property offences, I want to ensure that such measures maintain an apropriate balance between rights holders' interests, those of consumers and civil society.

Ah, the art of the politician - touch on all the issues but actually say nothing. But, I believe the tone of the letter is quite clear - Lord Sainsbury, his department and the government are quite prepared to enact laws under the guise of fighting terrorism that do no such thing and are used to prosecute the average person in the street who may (or may not) have had their network used to swap music files. This law is loading our ISP's with extra costs - which of course will be passed back to us - and potentially allows data on us and our habits to be given to organisations setup by a small but powerful oligopoly of corporations.

This is absolutely disgraceful, and very serious indeed. It is wrong that such decisions are being pushed by a department with interests only in it's industries and not for it's citizens. And it is misplaced in thinking that this particular industry needs help in protecting it's anti-consumer, anti-innovation business model. But more importantly fellow UK citizens, are you happy to have your privacy taken away by laws like this that give that data not just to government agencies protecting us from a possible terrorist threat, but to virtual-monopoly companies who think they may have been cheated out of a CD sale?

Please, please, please comment here on your views. And, please, please, please write to your MP about this further erosion of our freedoms.

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