Correcting the ignorant UK Members of Parliament who "debated" the Digital Economy Bill

Stef sez, "As we all know, the UK Digital Economy Bill passed last night. Watching the debates, one of the things that shocked me was the repeated displays of ignorance of the technical and copyright issues by MPs on all sides. The Second, and Third readings are now online at I thought it might be good to use the annotations features to correct some of the more glaring and bizarre howlers. The annotated debates will stand as a record of this sad democratic failure. Remember to keep it polite and technical - MPs are professionally inured to plain abuse - We, the internet, clearly have a job of education to do."

Here's Mark Todd, Labour MP for South Derbyshire, explaining why you should have your Internet connection cut off without even a written notice:

Is my hon. Friend sure that a postal delivery will suffice? Many people may have chosen to form a contract with an ISP at some stage before moving, and may not have seen any particular reason to notify the ISP of a change of address.
Yes, the last time I moved, I simply had the movers run a private fiber loop from my old premises to the new place. It took most of the day and they had to dig up nearly all of central London, but it was lots easier, ultimately, than notifying my ISP of my change of address.


  1. With Dsl you just need the telco to activate a Dsl signal on the line and you can connect through your Isp without telling them your address.

  2. Maybe I don’t get the slang, but I don’t understand this. I’ve read it a few times, but I have no idea what he’s or you’s saying. Is the thought that since you can move physical locations the need to cancel your internet based on name is needed? Helps!

    1. Yes, you are correct: you have no idea.

      All broadband contracts (other than mobile, but that’s a different kettle of fish) relate to a physical connection that ends with a box on the wall that you plug in to.

  3. Cory, in fact Mark Todd was arguing that notifications are likely to be ineffective regardless of how they are issues. It was in response to Tom Watson’s amendment to remove email as a method of notification.

    There is also the (completely ignored) situation of mobile broadband, which has no such physical ties to your home address.

  4. “In this metaphorical world that they have constructed, my hon. Friend Mr. Watson, who is in his place but not paying attention, is Luke Skywalker. He is the little guy, the plucky loner fighting the machine. Clay Shirky is Obi Wan Kenobi, the wise, broad, almost mystical guru figure. [etc]”

    Therefore, you must acquit.

  5. The quote above, watchout5, was with regard to the part of the debate where they were talking about whether warnings should be sent by email or post. Tom Watson was pointing out that many emails will go unread; the MP above was pointing out that letters may go to an old address. To be fair, you could buy a 3G-based wifi router and change address?

  6. i thought the same thing when mark todd said that, but immediately afterwards i realised its quite common nowadays for people to use a broadband dongle.. especially the more transient students this criminal bill is targeting.
    the point stands though, I spent most of the debate wishing i could transport myself there and tell them exactly what it was they were debating.

  7. He… didn’t really say that, did he? That’s… wow. One of two things: either ignorance of such epic proportions that I wonder how the man can even function in the 21st century or dedicating 1% of his brain cycles to this discussion while using the other 9% (REMEMBER WE ONLY USE TEN!!!) (sorry the stupid is infectious) while using the other 99% to, I don’t know, play Farmville on his iPhone or Pocket Billiard on his iCock.

    Seriously, wow.

  8. Politicians and lawyers often don’t understand technology. Its not that they are stupid, its that they don’t have the background. This is why you have to push. Some industry type shows up with a lot of graphs and charts, and yes, they are probably going to believe him/her, after all, when you lobby the government, you send your best person, with as much backup as possible, and you don’t mention anything that detracts from what you want done.

    So you have to push, and keep on pushing. I’ve been doing that in Canada with a series of articles which I am filing with the government and the opposition parties:

    You have to keep in pushing, and pushing. It may take a while for the politicians to understand what you are saying, don’t forget that what they’ve been told by the ‘content distributors’ is what they heard first, and it will take time persuade the politicians that it is wrong.


  9. Dear honerable friend,

    If we post an annotation, do we have to use the same kind of silly talk as the politicians?

    Hmph, hmph, hmph, hmph

  10. Took me a minute to get the ‘honorable’ title- I kept thinking I was back in Baltimore, hon.

  11. Are you sure he didn’t mean that the new tenant at your old address could be doing the “bad stuff”, but the ISP still thinks you live there?

  12. I’m sorry, what part of this are you guys not getting? Go re-read Lessig’s observations. The problem is not stupidity, it’s corruption. It’s also not (often) the “here’s a big bag of loot, vote this way” corruption, but a more systemic problem of the relationship between money on politics.

    It would not help if the stuffed suits in Parliament/Congress/whatever understood the issues in detail. They are still beholden to interests that have made their investments and are now seeing the returns.

    The internet developed so fast that it ran ahead of the instruments of state and corporate control. Those are now re-asserting themselves.

  13. au contraire, I think it’s pretty obvious from the more reasoned commentary at tc, ars, or even el reg, that the freetard movement seriously needs to rethink the way it approaches making it’s case. like, explain what the problems are instead of creating strawmen.

    a more reasoned approach seems to have worked to remove clause 43.

    moving forward, perhaps there’s a lesson in that.

  14. Cory –

    The quote from Mark Todd may have been in the context of a subscriber to a wireless ISP.

    That said, a group of citizens should band together to determine whether these MP’s are reading copyrighted bedtime stories to their children over the phone, and if so, take appropriate now-legal steps to have the MP’s wireless internet service (their mobile phones) cut off without trial or recourse to appeal. Perhaps the MP’s are receiving pirated ring tones from their family or employees via MMS. What are they doing with their work computers? Perhaps there is no distinction in the bill between cutting off an entire home from the internet for the copyright sins of a single unknown individual allegedly operating from a given IP address, and cutting off an entire government department for the copyright sins of a single unknown individual …

    1. Interesting…also how would this apply to a business where an employee was pirating through the company’s computers? What about a university (very common there, no doubt)?

      I could just imagine, within a week of the bill passing no corporate, government, or academic institutions remain online…

  15. How does this work for people, like myself, who have tenants that live with them? If they steal music, my Internet is liable?

  16. Just like to point out to everyone who has rolled over and given up that this is not law yet.
    It still has to be passed by the Lords, who could send it back to the Commons.

    1. “It still has to be passed by the Lords, who could send it back to the Commons.”

      It has now. And they didn’t.

  17. This is just joke people, if they ever do pass this don’t you think that the people will find a way around it??

    I don’t believe the UK constituents are going to take this lying down, I have already heard that people are not going to even pay attention to this if it does come to pass.

  18. It’s a good thing that God (whatever that means) didn’t believe in copyrights or intellectual property. Hey, air is a wonderful thing…sure would hate to have to pay for it. And, although this is a joke (bad one) of course, it does make you wonder…if God (again, whatever that means) created your brain and your brain begat something, doesn’t it really belong to God to begin with? You are just a vessel my poet, writer, director, blogger, creative one. The world my be your oyster, but that oyster belongs to someone else probably.

  19. Actually, depending on how the ISP and account is set up, it is possible to use an internet account from a different physical address from that registered with the ISP, even for cable and ADSL connections, and of course wireless. I know from experience, since I’ve done it.

    In Australia, it’s common for ISPs to require ADSL and Cable modems to be configured with the correct username and password in order to establish a connection. This was true for both Telstra’s Cable and iiNet’s ADSL services, both of which I have used.

    It just requires that the premises from which you are connecting has also previously been connected via the same service to the same ISP. So, for example, when I moved house with a cable connection, I was able to plug my cable modem in and it worked just fine on my own account, without any problems. Of course, I still notified the ISP eventually that I had moved, and they still charged me a seemingly unnecessary transfer fee for doing virtually nothing.

    Similarly, when I was with iiNet on an ADSL2+, I was able to log into both my own account, and the account of my dad (or indeed the account of any other iiNet subscriber, given the right credentials) from either of our modems at different addresses. This turned out to be incredibly useful because when I inevitably exceeded my monthly usage limit for my own account [1], I could just switch to my dad’s account for the rest of the month, taking care not to send his account over the limit too. :-)

    I’m not sure if the situation is the same in the UK. Admittedly, it could operate more like it does where I am in Norway, where there are no usernames, and it seems that the only way they can identify an account is from the address. But I suspect this means I could take my modem into some other house, where the former tenant used the same ISP as I, but has not yet notified the ISP that they have moved (or they have but the ISP hasn’t yet disconnected it); plug in my own modem and effectively use their account.

    So while the comments of the MPs may seem funny on the surface, there are indeed ways to use alternative accounts from different physical addresses.

    [1] Note: Australia is still incredibly backwards with their internet services, and most ISPs still charge exorbitant fees for subscriptions with very low monthly usage limits (generally less than around 30GB/month, often down to just a few hundred MB). The usual punishment for exceeding this insanely low limit is to shape the connection to a barely usable 64kbps or 128kbps.

  20. Obviously Cory has decided to completely ignore the 4.9% of UK internet users who connect via dial-up and who can connect from anywhere they have a phone line.

    I moved a year ago, and I still occasionally come across services that are using my old address. With auto-pay and e-billing, fewer and fewer companies have a need to know my updated physical address.

  21. Usually I’m pretty happy about the fact that no one who really knows anything about technology will work for the government.


  22. Cory, Mark Todd voted against the bill, didn’t he? Given his obvious ignorance regarding the issue (he’s making that case that postal notification is insufficient) perhaps he should have voted for?

    I agree, the bill is BS and indefensible. What I think particularly galling is that article 43 basically gives anyone with enough money free rights to your copyright images, whilst clamping down on copyright infringement against large companies and vested interests. So it’s OK, in fact legally enshrined, for Mtv to take and re-use your images, but if you distribute a recording of any of their copyright material, you’re screwed. Not a big deal, perhaps? Well, what if the Tory party wants to use your image in their election campaign posters?

    This is what really characterises this bill as exploitative. It is protecting the current status quo of making money by fucking the little guy. My only regret is that my MP voted for, and I live 50m from a constituency whose (Labour) MP voted against.

  23. On a comcast cable network (and presumably similar ill-run excuses for networks) you can unplug your DOCSIS2-compliant cable modem and plug it back in at a different physical address and it will run just fine.

    The operations group at comcast should get a notification in their logs that you’ve migrated across segments (if you do – if you move within the same apartment complex, for example, you will likely remain in the same (heavily oversubscribed) segment) but they aren’t likely to act on it.

    The cable modem hardware contains the address (like a NIC MAC, if you are ethernet savvy) that is used to gain access. This is why you can steal a cable modem from your neighbor and get his/her access.

    Of course, if you steal a cable modem and the owner reports the loss to the ISP, they can easily track down the physical location of the device. OK, if it’s comcast they can with great difficulty track down the location, but you get my point.

    It’s incredibly unlikely that a member of Parliament knew any of this. But I’m surprised you didn’t, Cory! Are there no cable ISPs in the UK any more? All gone to das blinkenlights?

  24. > Obviously Cory has decided to completely ignore the 4.9% of UK internet users who connect via dial-up and who can connect from anywhere they have a phone line.

    And not just dial-up users. I don’t know about the UK but here in Canada, you can keep your phone number when you move if you are within the same exchange area (I did it last time I moved). So since I use an ISDN service (as do millions of other people), I could have continued to access my Internet account after moving even if I didn’t inform the provider of my change of address. And if someone is also using electronic billing to pay their Internet bills, they may well not bother sending a change of address to the provider because they don’t think it’s necessary.

  25. As I posted last month…

    “This is all a grand conversation, and aggrieved ‘rightsholders’ are going to have to answer this question:

    Why should anyone else have to pay
    to hear what you have to say?

    It’s obvious that the only reason they can ever come up with is, “It’s the law. And if it wasn’t, it is now.”

    But laws that are disobeyed by all–or even a wide majority–as a natural consequence of human interaction erodes respect for the Law as a whole. This is untenable for any civilisation, and its unforgivable that over-budget storytellers and silk-wearing buskers have led this Parliament of Hamelin to buy into this self-destruction.

    Britons, welcome to the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Unless you can by some miracle get the Lords or Liz to stop it, get used to a steady hypocritical stream of the great and the powerful shouting at you:

    T E M P E R A N C E !

  26. Isn’t BoingBoing a media company? Couldn’t someone from there send three copyright infringement notifications to each MPs ISP?

    There’s only one way to show them. Show them.

  27. Cory, not everyone shares your lifestyle. There are a million UK households which have mobile broadband as their only connection to the internet. The majority (students, young professionals) do so because they live in rented accomodation on six month lets, and therefore don’t want the hassle and expense of installing a new fixed connection twice a year or having to pay bills sent to somewhere you don’t live any more.

    Perhaps Mark Todd could help educate you out of your ignorance.

  28. Assuming that ISPs can just switch off a person’s internet for alleged illegal file sharing, it would be interesting to see what would happen if a virus was successfully spread which did nothing more than download and distribute copyrighted materials. Just a thought.

  29. I wrote post #40 before, but I’d like to rephrase: Assuming that ISPs can just switch off a person’s internet for alleged illegal file sharing, it would be interesting to see what would happen if SPYWARE was successfully spread which did nothing more than download and distribute copyrighted materials.

    The average user’s computer is infected with 28 Spyware programs, all able to send and receive information from the internet. So it would not be too far-fetched to think that one of these could transfer copyrighted material.

    The reason I bring up this point, is to those people who ask “I am liable if my roommate does it?” The truth is that as long as you have a computer that is connected to the internet you are liable.

  30. There is just so much wrong with the Digital Economy Bill.

    It doesn’t directly harm me because I’m a Canadian. But the damage it does to the idea of democracy is incalculable, and after all, everything is connected.

    Oh! Canada: DEBill… bad4democracy

    And of course it is another step up from the DMCA toward ACTA.

  31. To be fair, I’ve actually done this. We moved from one house to another, without remembering to inform the cable company. The previous tenant used the same cable provider, so we were physically connected already. And simply forgot.

    We were paying the bill, and receiving the service .. easy to forget that there’s anything wrong there.

    A few months later, they came along the pulled the line, since there was no active account listed at this address. An Ohh moment.

    now that I think of it, I have no idea what address is attached to my 3g modem anymore ..

  32. It seems Dan Foster (Lib Dems Bath) summed up not just the final Digital Economy Bill debate but the state of our politics/ploticians perfectly:

    “We are often concerned about why members of the public hold us in such low regard, but anybody observing our proceedings tonight will not be convinced that this House is doing its job of holding the Government to account. We have spent more than an hour discussing just one clause of a 50-clause Bill in the knowledge that we have less than an hour left to cover all the remaining clauses-that is hardly evidence that we are doing our job properly. It is frankly totally disgraceful that a Bill of this complexity has been given so little time for debate in this House.”

  33. The craziness is that the law puts the blame on the connection holder not the person using that connection. So, someone is going to be blamed for the crimes of another. The only way to defend against this is to have a very high level of knowledge regarding networks. I could have a friend come to my house, and by virtue of him having P2P software in his laptop’s startup folder, accidentally allow him to file-share using my connection; and I, my wife and my family, get disconnected without any trial?

    What a load of crap.

    The unfair stupidity of this will be simple to expose: visit your least favorite MP, ask to use his connection to get email, download P2P in the background and phone Sony.

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