A group of digital heavyweights have banded together to challenge the UK government’s Digital Economy Bill.
Google, Facebook, Yahoo and eBay claim that one key point in the bill regarding changes to copyright would allow the government free rein to monitor internet users’ every online move.
The group penned a joint letter to Lord Mandelson highlighting the issues surrounding clause 17 and raising their “grave concerns”. The missive was designed for maximum impact as it was disseminated to media while the bill was being debated in the House of Lords yesterday afternoon.
The letter said that the inclusion of Clause 17 would stifle innovation and damage the government’s vision for a Digital Britain.
“We believe the bill’s clause 17 – which gives any future Secretary of State unprecedented and sweeping powers to amend the Copyright, Design and Patent Act – opens the way for arbitrary measures,” the letter states.
“This power could be used, for example, to introduce additional technical measures or increase monitoring of user data even where no illegal practice has taken place. This would discourage innovation, impose unnecessary costs, potentially unsettling the careful balance of responsibilities for enabling market change which Lord Carter outlined in the Digital Britain report.”
The group urged for the removal of the clause from the bill. A Liberal Democrat, Lord Razzall, told the House of Lords yesterday that the clause should be rejected for the same reason.
A spokesman for Mandelson's department attempted to reassure the internet giants that the government would not abuse any future powers.
“The law must keep pace with technology, so that the government can act if new ways of seriously infringing copyright develop in the future. However, business will not wake up one morning to a world in which government has taken extensive digital powers,” he said.