A news item from the UK attracted my attention yesterday. Apparently the British parliament passed the Digital Economy Bill, the UK’s answer to France’s notorious Hadopi law, and Sweden’s IPRED law. The fact that it passed is not surprising. How it passed is.

Whatever one’s point of view on the downloading of material from the internet, some of which may be copyrighted, irrespective of one’s view that cutting someone off from the internet in these days is a serious infringement of their ability to conduct their lawful business, and may, in fact, hit the wrong person or persons and affect perfectly legal activities of innocent persons, these are side issues for the purpose of my piece today.

This bill was passed after two hours of discussion. In order to get it passed significant passages were either pulled or reworded, producing a bill which in some respects is even more draconian than the original. And the two major parties in the British parliament were in agreement on the passing of this bill. My question is why was it so important that this bill be passed now, since it would anyway be passed in the next parliament after the elections, since both Labour and Conservative voted for it. And if it was so important, why was it left until the last minute, when time for reflection and discussion was so limited? And what was the point of discussion anyway, since both major parties were going to vote for it? With the UK whip system, it would be passed no matter what the objections.

One has to ask: who’s paying them? Who is paying the MPs who voted for this bill or at least the ministers who forced it through the house, since the MPs would do what they were told by the whips anyway? Normally legislation in any country passes almost unmarked through the whole process. But sometimes, and more and more often, it seems to me, governments seek to pass legislation which goes right against the citizens’ sense of what is ethically acceptable or proportional to the problem being addressed. This is one such case.

Not only in the UK but in France, Sweden – especially in Sweden – and in the European parliament the question of parliamentary response to file sharing has awoken a sleeping dragon. I saw the effects most clearly here in Sweden, where demonstrations, email campaigns and other forms of protest have been organised against virtually all the recent legislation for the digital surveillance of the citizenry. And I know that our Euro-MPs had full inboxes in their email when the Telecom package was being discussed. So one would have expected a little more attention to detail in respect of the Digital Economy Bill, some attempt, perhaps, to explain the point of view of the government and to try and build up some form of concensus.

So, I ask again, why this rush, and the corollary question, who is paying them? It certainly isn’t the citizenry.

© James Wilde 2015