Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ISP Executives in firing line as Governments move on online privacy

Senior Executives within ISPs will be calling in the lawyers this week.

Why? well it's been an interesting week for on-line privacy, freedom of speech and data protection; with the ISPs being moved firmly centre stage again.

In the UK, the Labour government has presented a Green Paper that will coerce ISPs to monitor their customers Internet traffic for illicit content. Recidivists will have their connection cut off, and to stop them doing it again, their names could be entered into a central database of law breakers, to be circulated to other ISPs, government agencies and potentially even to the owners of the content.

In the USA, the Protect America Act has been passed allowing the NSA to filter the day to day emails and web content of both Foreign and US Citizens, in the ongoing search for Al Queda.

Finally, Tiny Californian ISP Dynadot which hosts whistle blower site Wikileaks was forced to hand over the site, contents, supporting literature and all log data to the courts.

So what is the potential fall out for the service providers?

The US government has stated that ISPs who voluntarily co-operate will be protected from litigation by their customers. But we know from experience that won't stop the lawyers having a bash at a few multi-billion$ class actions.

The UK Government has also promised protection for the ISPs. But refusal by the media industry to indemnify the likes of Tiscali against costs involved in fighting prosecution, has already caused that company's attempt to implement the "three strikes" proposal to collapse in disarray. As the process is equivalent to asking the postal service to open and vet every package and letter in the system, there is surely plenty of scope for litigation.

Even after the legislation I foresee many IT Illiterate parents carted away as their kids continued to download music without their knowledge, as well as the media industry choosing to pursue teenagers for individual criminal actions.

It's just a matter of time before ISPs find themselves under siege from the lawyers of those prevented from accessing the Public Internet, email and possibly even phone services, or for abetting the media companies in malicious prosecutions.

Dynaspot shows that ISPs will increasingly being held accountable for the content and themes of web sites that they host, and the authorities will support action against them.

So why should the Senior Executives worry; well there is currently little protection in law that will protect them from irate customer. Reviewing the 2002 Electronic Communications Act (figleaf) passed to protect ISPs who remove content from customers websites.

The Dynaspot case is the final proof that if ISPs don't co-operate they will face court action, heavy fines and even jail.

Oh you're outside the US / UK! "Don't get comfortable folks" - the gaming industry thought they were safe until their CEOs started finding themselves held in US jails for wire fraud and racketeering.

Those ISPs in hosting havens like Finland and Norway should bare in mind that a US arrest warrant cost Swedish Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom $100m, he can afford it, but can you!

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