On Thursday, every type of media outlet in the UK – newspapers, Internet, radio shows, TV and teletext all bristled with the same news. Six major ISPs had agreed to start sending out warning letters to alleged file-sharers after the government ordered action to decrease online piracy.
Most people seem to be interested in what happens after a letter is received, but who decides who gets a letter in the first place? Well, that’s the self-appointed job of the BPI (the British Phonographic Industry), a completely commercial organization set up to serve the interests of the music business and they don’t want you to know (in any detail) how their file-sharing tracking systems work. The same systems would’ve been used should they have been successful in their demands for “3 strikes and you’re out” yet there is zero transparency – everyone is supposed to blindly accept what they say as truth and that simply can’t be healthy.
In recent comments, a Carphone Warehouse spokesman further indicated that it is expected to take action against its customers based purely on the ‘evidence’ provided by the BPI. “What we have agreed to do is to write to our customers and advise them there’s been an alleged infringement,” he said. “We’re very clear that we don’t know if that’s the case or not, we’ve just been told there has been and we want to advise them of that.”
So in a nutshell, the BPI provide all the ‘evidence’, and the ISPs have to blindly believe it and take action against their own customers. To think that a commercial organization like the BPI is allowed to provide its own unchallenged allegations in such a completely non-transparent manner is the real outrage in all of this. If the BPI is to be trusted with such power, it has to be held accountable. If it is to remain credible in its role as the “UK MP3 Police” its systems must be opened up to public scrutiny. Once they are proved to be accurate by a panel of independent experts, then all well and good, but the fact remains that the BPI only give a vague indication of how they operate and have no intentions of elaborating.
Matt Philips, Director of Communications at the BPI refused to tell TorrentFreak how they gather their evidence, so any right-minded individual with an interest in this issue might find themselves asking: “What exactly are they afraid of?”
Clearly, it should be possible from their detailed records for an ISP to confirm or deny the technical evidence provided by the BPI. However, they aren’t in a position to do this since it would be a massive breach of customer privacy. Instead, the word of the BPI is taken at face value.
In a response, some Swedish ISPs have voiced their opinions too. “We don’t want to act like police and feel that a system similar to that in the UK is a deep invasion of privacy,” said Annika Kristersson of Tele2, adding: “It would entail us having to spy on our customers.”
Everyone makes mistakes and no system is flawless so it’s essential to have a verification process before throwing accusations around. Until then, take comfort in knowing that the file-sharing equivalent of home-made, untested, uncalibrated police speed cameras of unknown design and ability are operated by people with a vested interest and are passing judgment on you, your children and potentially (should the BPI get its way) your whole Internet future. A little transparency to inspire confidence isn’t too much to ask.