French law proposal will force ISPs to spy on users and terminate downloaders without trial

Ars Technica has some good commentary on France's insane new copyright law proposal: the copyright cartels are promising DRM-free access to their works if the government will order ISPs to serve as unpaid copyright enforcers, required to spy on every French Internet connection on behalf of a bunch of giant foreign multinationals.

The proposal looks to be an early Christmas present for the movie and music industries–and a major scrooging for French consumers. For the first time in either Europe or North America, Big Content will be able to offload the tiresome and expensive work of copyright enforcement to ISPs and the commission called for by the law. If the proposal is approved by the French parliament next year, proponents suggest it would go a long way towards slowing the torrent of P2P traffic to a trickle.

Meanwhile, French Internet users will have all of their traffic subject to monitoring by ISPs to ensure that content is not being pirated; that's not good for privacy. And as is always the case with such technological measures, there's always the potential for legitimate content, including the increasing amount of legitimate P2P traffic, to be caught up in a copyright enforcement driftnet. Sure, consumers are thrown a few bones–DRM-free archives, faster DVD releases, and no more massive fines for copyright infringement–but the tradeoff is harsh since it comes with a giant government subsidy for Big Content's interests, paid for in lost privacy and an expensive oversight organization.

Remember, like the RIAA says, "When you go fishing with a driftnet, you catch a few dolphins." This plan will shut down the legitimate network traffic of many innocents, all day, every day. ISPs will face legal penalties if they don't enforce heavily enough, but there will be no penalties for over-enforcing. As a result, the procedure by which French people lose their right to communicate online will be automatic, faceless and instantaneous. The process by which they protest their innocence and get the right to communicate back will be slow, bureaucratic, and manual.

The cost of this system will be borne by all French Internet users, whose connections will rise in price to reflect the cost of the ISPs being co-opted to do the copyright cartel's dirty work.

This is the presumption of guilt: the idea that software can tell the innocent from the guilty without a trial, without the chance to face your accuser, without even being charged. The hallmark of a democracy is that we do not punish the innocent to get at the guilty — or, as Cardinal Richelieu once said, "If you give me six lines written
by the most honest man, I will find something in them to hang him."