Isp Anti-Disconnection Petition Clocks Up 30,000 Supporters

A petition set up by internet service provider TalkTalk at the Prime Minister's website has received over 30,000 signatures in opposition to the Government's proposal to cut off internet connections used by suspected file sharers.

The Digital Economy Bill orders ISPs to sever connections used by suspected copyright-infringers if they ignore warning letters about their alleged behaviour. It has provoked fierce opposition from ISPs and internet users worried about how disconnections will affect other users of the connection and what the evidence basis for disconnection will be.

TalkTalk has been an outspoken critic of the plan and has vowed a legal challenge to any demand for it to disconnect users without a court order.

Andrew Heaney, director of strategy and regulation at Talk Talk, set up the petition at the Number10.gov.uk site in October of last year and it now has 31,742 signatures.

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to abolish the proposed law that will see alleged illegal file-sharers disconnected from their broadband connections, without a fair trial," says the petition. "We think this has one fundamental flaw, as illegal file-sharers will simply hack into other peoples Wi-Fi networks to do their dirty work."

"This will result in innocent people being disconnected from the internet. What's more, such a punishment should be dealt with in the proper way, in a court of law. This guilty until proven innocent approach violates basic human rights," it says.

The Digital Economy Bill contains no provision for court oversight of disconnection orders, though Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw told MPs and Lords in October of last year that "there would need to be a court order for any of the technical measures".

The Bill, which is still being debated by Parliament, creates the legislation needed to implement the recommendations of the Digital Britain Report. That Report, though, did not say that ISPs should be forced to disconnect users.

Nearly 300 amendments to the Bill have been proposed in the House of Lords. Conservative backbench peer Lord Lucas has proposed several of those, focusing on copyright reform. He has suggested that the Bill formally legalise the copying of web pages undertaken by search engines and that people wrongly accused of copyright infringement be given a legal right of redress.

He told OUT-LAW Radio last week that he was dropping a planned amendment forcing those making copyright infringement claims to quantify their losses.

"The transgression we're going to be dealing with is making music or making copyright product available for downloading by others [so] the question how do you decide what people are above and below the threshold becomes really pretty difficult and I don't know that the Government has clear ideas on that and we will have to pursue them further," he said. "The idea under those circumstances of trying to put a value on the transgression won't work. I'm not going to pursue that as a concept."