The Left’s self image is that it is progressive and modern and “gets” the web. Yet some of the smarter ones are starting to grasp that it spells the end of the big corporate politics and media on which the British Left, and their quango state, have come to depend. They’re going to hate it.
Quite so. And, of course, they are going to take steps to control it.
What steps? What can they possibly do?
Via CharlotteGore on Twitter, it seems that the Digital Economy Bill has some interesting and fairly wide-ranging provisions that could do precisely that.
Just over a week ago I wrote a fairly dry legal analysis of the Digital Economy Bill. I spotted an extremely serious provision—clause 11—in the version being discussed in the House of Lords. Having looked at the amendments (which you can find on the Bill's document page) I am worried that no-one in Parliament appears to be taking the problem serious. [sic]
What is the problem with clause 11 that I am getting so alarmed about it? It amends the Communications Act 2003 to insert a new section 124H which would, if passed, give sweeping powers to the Secretary of State. It begins:(1) The Secretary of State may at any time by order impose a technical obligation on internet service providers if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate in view of—
Pausing there. Note that this says nothing at all about copyright infringement. For example the power could be used to:
- order ISP's to block any web page found on the Internet Watch Foundation's list
- block specific undesireable sites (such as wikileaks)
- block specific kinds of traffic or protocols, such as any form of peer-to-peer
- throttle the bandwidth for particular kinds of service or to or from particular websites.
In short, pretty much anything.
Indeed. And Francis Davey goes on to justify his assertion...
I do not exagerrate. The definition of a "technical obligation" and "technical measure" are inserted by clause 10:
- A "technical obligation", in relation to an internet service provider, is an obligation for the provider to take a technical measure against particular subscribers to its service.
- A "technical measure" is a measure that— (a) limits the speed or other capacity of the service provided to a subscriber; (b) prevents a subscriber from using the service to gain access to particular material, or limits such use; (c) suspends the service provided to a subscriber; or (d) limits the service provided to a subscriber in another way.
As you can see blocking wikileaks is simply a matter of applying a technical measure against all subscribers of any ISP.
Your humble Devil has talked—at length and ad nauseam—about mini-Enabling Acts put into NuLabour laws: Clause 11 is the mini-Enabling Act in the Digital Economy Bill. Actually, it is just one of several because the Digital Economy Bill amends several other Acts, inserting various mini-Enabling Acts into numerous pieces of legislation.
And, as with all of these mini-Enabling Acts, there really are no safeguards against abuse—because, of course, these mini-Enabling Acts are designed to be used and abused.
Surely something must limit this power you ask? It seems not. The Secretary of State may make an order if "he considers it appropriate" in view of:(a) an assessment carried out or steps taken by OFCOM under section 124G; or (b) any other consideration.
Where "any other consideration" could be anything.
So, essentially, the Secretary of State may compel any ISP to do anything at any time and for any reason he likes. No awkward laws need to be passed, there need be no tedious debate in Parliament, there need be no uncertain vote to take.
This is another fence-post in the totalitarian state: once again, we are left to say "well, surely they wouldn't use this power, would they?"
Remember: there is only one reason why such a clause would be inserted into this Act, or any other: so that it can be used.
And this Bill simply got nodded through Parliament. Once again, our MPs—either through malice or the usual fucking laziness—have voted to abdicate another part of the power that we lend them.
And there are hundreds of pieces of legislation with similar clauses. Parliament is reaching the point where it is simply irrelevant: the government could use these clauses to enact pretty much anything that it wants.
The government could suspend Parliament and carry on ruling as an oligarchy but it simply doesn't need to: why go to the bother of suspending Parliament and risking a revolution when you can simply by-pass the institution altogether?
As I wrote some time ago, our Parliament seems to have given up on its supposed role—scrutinising the Executive.
This is NuLabour's standard tactic—learned, no doubt, from the evil fuckers in the EU who are adept at this sort of thing—of proposing something ridiculous and then pretending to drop it.
What they then do is to pass a law that allows them to go far, far further because, unlike the previous incarnation, this new clause doesn't define what the law actually is.
Each one of these clauses is, in effect, an Enabling Act in that it enables any designated minister to change the law without having to argue the case through Parliament—and thus ensuring that has no right to vote on it.
Often, the media miss it entirely: after all, legalese seems to be designed to bore the living shit out of anyone brave enough to try to trawl through it, c.f. the EU Constitution. Further, one is generally looking for a particularly illiberal measure made explicit within the law itself, not an all-encompassing clause that allows a minister to decide that the law is whatever they say it is at any given time.
A couple of years ago, bloggers scored a hit when they introduced the MSM to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, known colloquially as "the Abolition of Parliament Bill". This would have allowed the government to change any piece of legislation via ministerial fiat—in other words, without having to go through Parliament. After a concerted protest from both the MSM and the blogosphere, the Bill was watered down into a slightly less terrifying form.
But the fact is—and this is another tactic that the government have learned from the EU bureaucrats—that so many Bills similar to the one described above have now passed into law that the Abolition of Parliament Bill might as well have been passed as originally mooted anyway.
This is the really terrifying thing about NuLabour: they have pushed though thousands—tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands—of new laws, many of which contain these mini-Enabling Acts. And the Civil Contingencies Act is only the most egregious of these; there are others which allow ministers to remove our liberties on a whim.
Sure, they are far smaller matters, but taken together they all add up to an Executive wielding power with no brakes upon it: statutory instruments are bad enough and would, were your humble Devil in charge, be rendered illegal—these Enabling Clauses are, quite simply, the fence-posts for a totalitarian regime.
Blogs such as EUReferendum continually highlight how Westminster has become little more than a regional EU council, but in truth our MPs are in the process of being rendered utterly impotent by our own government.
Our jumped-up chicken Parliament is still running around and around—desperately pretending that it is somehow important—when, in fact, it has had its head cut off.