Three unproven accusations and you’re out – why the Eircom / IRMA deal is bad for internet users

The internet is abuzz (Irish Times | EFF | ars technica | Boing Boing) with the news that Eircom and the record labels have reached an out of court settlement in which Eircom has agreed to implement a “three strikes” regime for disconnecting people accused of filesharing. In return, the music industry has dropped its demand that Eircom apply a filtering system to its network.

It’s undoubtedly a good thing that the idea of filtering has (at least for the time being) been dropped – and in case you’ve forgotten, here’s why it’s a bad idea. But this new three strikes system has the potential to be just as bad. Why?

It’s unreliable. The company which the Irish music industry used in previous cases to identify filesharers – MediaSentry – has a track record of false accusations and in fact was recently found to be operating illegally in several US states. As a result the music industry has now dumped MediaSentry and has turned to Danish firm Dtecnet – but the inherent unreliability of this process remains.

It’s secret. We normally expect rules to be made in public, to be accessible to citizens and to be applied publicly. In this case, though, the settlement is private to the parties and we don’t know how it will be implemented by Eircom. Do you expect the right to challenge evidence in court? Perhaps a right to appeal? Tough. On the face of it the music industry and Eircom will between them act as judge, jury and executioner.

It’s undemocratic. The European Parliament has already rejected a similar plan to disconnect individuals based on mere accusations. In other countries where three strikes has been discussed there has been public input via legislatures and public consultation. (And in the UK the democratic process led to three strikes being shelved.) Here, however, the music industry is trying to foist the system onto ISPs while sidelining the Oireachtas and the democratic process.

It’s disproportionate. Daithi makes this point well:

The present-day Internet includes communication (email), socialising (IM, social networking etc), media consumption (websites, blog, streaming, etc), media creation (ditto), access to Government services, online commerce, etc. Now imagine that the sanction for a, let’s face it, relatively minor crime (copyright infringement, while economically significant, is hardly manslaughter), includes no use of the postal services, highly limited access to shops, no permission to read a newspaper, reduced ability to use public services or get public information, and more. That’s no minor sanction. Indeed, most prisoners can get things like reading material and send and receive letters! Not to mention that a Net disconnection has an impact on family members and others.

It will affect innocent third parties. Internet connections are not generally unique to an individual. Instead they’re shared – amongst families, flatmates, etc. But this system will mean that others will suffer based on the alleged wrongdoing of another. As the Open Rights Group points out:

if Dad gets the connection cut off … suddenly Mum can’t run her business from home, and the kids can’t get access to the Web to do their homework.