Are They ISPs, or Are They Bobbies?


The “No-Bits List” I facetiously proposed late last month in response to a speech made by U2’s manager may soon become reality in the UK, setting a very ominous precedent for Internet users across the globe.

Legislative proposals will be introduced next week that will require ISPs to take legal action against users accused of downloading pirated material, such as music or movies,
according to the TimesOnline. Four of the largest ISPs in the UK (BT, Tiscali, Orange and Virgin Media) have been in joint talks over this scheme. According to the proposed plan, users suspected of downloading pirated materials will get warnings before their Internet connectivity is turned off.

The legislature in the UK is bowing to pressures from the recording and film industries to place blame on the builders of the Internet for people using the infrastructure for illegal activities. While I clearly do not condone using the Internet for illegal activities, it is absolutely inane to force the people who build the Internet access methods (the ISPs) to police their own network. It is true that the Internet makes it easier for illegal downloads to occur, but the same could be same of handguns –- they make it easier to commit murder. And no one is asking Glock or Sig to start tracking down murderers.

I cannot think of another type of infrastructure (technology or otherwise) where the builders are forced to monitor and police its use. In the UK is the BBC responsible for making sure that their television and movie content is not recorded onto a DVD and resold? I think the police would be involved to stop the selling of this illegal content –- and as far as I know the BBC does not employ police officers. Should ISPs start looking at their traffic to see if anyone under age is accessing pornography? Maybe ISPs should add you to the UK “No-Bits List” if you send three emails that they thought to be connected with selling or buying illegal drugs?

Ridiculous, you say? The film and recording industries clearly have a problem with their business models and are frantically trying to get out of their self-imposed tailspin. Yet this it is not the fault of the Internet and the ISPs, nor should this problem result in any new legislation. I thought theft was already a crime, and that laws were enforced by the police.


Jeremy Penston

Hi – better late than never…

This has been rumbling along for some time. A rep from the MCPS-PRS spoke to telco 2.0 in October and warned that this was coming. Of course, he would because he is paid by the producers but they have support in government. The Gowers Review which allowed ISPs to the end of 2007 to fix it themselves or “Government should consider whether to legislate”.

The problem for telcos is DPI. If they look in a packet for the purposes of shaping traffic or making money from advertisers, they cannot argue that they are unaware of what is going over their networks. The bit pipe (“look, we are like the postal service”) argument no longer holds.

Consider adding to the Glock analogy earlier that the gun had a detector that could tell if it was pointing at someone and Glock failed to prevent the weapon being used to shoot at people… They could quite likley be considered an accomplice. Handguns are banned in the UK by the way, which is evidence of our social values and legislative culture.

Personally, I think we are missing the real benefit of such policing – I don’t think we should use it to make sure that rights holders get paid or poor students get locked up. I think it should be used to block child pornography and stop children being abused.

Graham Lewis

LINX, the London Internet Exchange have spoken to the UK Govt. Dept. responsible and they deny that legislation is anywhere near imminent. The Copyright holders seem to have spun the Times into running a non story.

We will see what happens but UK ISPs are not caving in on this one.

Peter Radizeski

When will gun companies be sued for murder? I mean, same premise. No reason to have a gun except to deter or shoot something.

How about car manufacturers? When my car runs someone over, will GM be sued?

How about my cell phone? Because they encourage me to text and call while driving, when I hit someone, will Nokia and ATT be sued?

Dave Asprey

I can’t wait until we have enough compute power to do voice recognition in real time, at which point the telcos can sell a service to big companies that disconnects the VOIP service of customers who don’t verbally show adequate brand loyalty. They could use an obfuscated, illogical algorithm like the credit agencies in the US use to score credit. We also might consider banning paper and pencils because they can’t be tracked, and thus could be used for hacking or transmitting unauthorized information (like the constitution). Automated, realtime censorship is just what the world needs to make sure everyone behaves.

Allan Leinwand

@deralaand – thanks. No, it was not the US…. but I have a sinking feeling this is headed to our side of the pond soon enough.

@macdad614 – huh? You want to abolish aliases and screen names on the Internet as a way to prevent illegal downloads? Not sure I follow that train of thought…. Presumably, if you are a customer of an ISP they already have your name and billing information. So, an ISP should comply with police and Bobbies doing investigations into theft, cyber-theft or otherwise.


Just make it impossible for everyone to remain completely anonymous so that the REAL criminals on the internet can be located, arrested and prosecuted for their crimes against law-abiding citizens. Stealing a person’s identity is as bad as rape (look at the long-term consequences), and it should be punished as such.


Allan, you are spot on here.
Will this increase the costs for ISPs ? If so then the consumers will be paying more for the hook up. In essence, taking money away from the people that would be buying the product, that the legislation was trying to protect.

In this world…it makes perfect sense.

Are you sure it wasn’t the U.S. Government that cooked up this idea?

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