Lord Mandelson, the unelected Minister in charge of a vast swathe of Government business via his roles as the current First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, President of the Board of Trade and Lord President of the Council, has been pretty vocal of late over what to do about illegal filesharers.  As one who presumably mingles with the dinosaurs of big media, he’s keen to hit back at individuals seen to be stealing content from the big media.

His latest proposals seem to strike at the core of justice – to disconnect individuals accused of illegal downloading.  Presumably accused by big media?  Anyway, The Register reports (TalkTalk to fight net disconnection plan) that at least one ISP is preparing to put up a fight. 

TalkTalk, of course are no strangers to controversy, being one of the ISPs that flirted with the idea of implementing the vile Phorm interception technology to make a quick buck on their customers’ internet habits.  Here, however, they seem to be coming across as the white knights.

The Government commissioned a report on digital policy, Digital Britain, which did not recommend the cutting off of connections used by alleged file-sharers. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which is headed by Lord Mandelson, later amended its consultation on that report, proposing disconnection as a policy.

Not unusual for our current Government, I guess (witness the current fracas over scientific advice).  But it seems to me that the problem here is two-fold. 

Firstly, disconnection seems inappropriately severe, given we’re not dealing with kids.  Secondly, how come a penalty is to be applied to those accused of illegal filesharing?  Not those found guilty, note. As The Register goes on to say:

Opponents of the plan have said that disconnection without proof to a court violates principles of justice, and have warned that disconnecting entire households because of the actions of one household member is not a fair response

TalkTalk quite rightly object to having this unjust role forced upon them.  The Register quotes a TalkTalk spokesman as saying:

“The approach is based on the principle of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and substitutes proper judicial process for a kangaroo court. What is being proposed is wrong in principle and it won’t work in practice. We know this approach will lead to wrongful accusations.  “TalkTalk will continue to resist any attempts to make it impose technical measures on its customers unless directed to do so by a court or recognised tribunal. In the event we are instructed to impose extra judicial technical measures we will challenge the instruction in the courts”.

Proving who is responsible for uploading or downloading files is not as straightforward as identifying an IP address: most domestic broadband accounts have several users, not to mention the possibility of illicit use of insecure broadband routers.  It is the height of irresponsibility for Government to propose disproportionate penalties, particularly without adequate legal oversight.  Mandelson should think again.