Fisted By The Government

By | December 10, 2008

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, 1933

When FDR made that speech he was addressing a country facing the same sorts of issues that the world faces today. An economic cataclysm that we may be unable to avert. But enough about that, what about the erosion of our rights as individuals and the possibility that anyone in the UK could be locked up for the possession of “extreme” images.

We’ve mentioned this before, so I’m not going to go over the old ground about if these laws are a keen enough instrument to prosecute the real sick bastards out there while leaving sane, consenting adults to carry on their private lives unfettered.

No, this is about something just as frightening and a problem that might re-ignite the debate about the viability of the laws that come into force in the UK on 01 January 2009.

Recently users of torrent style file sharing sites have been receiving solicitor’s letters on behalf of the copyright holders of films and computer games. These letters have accused the recipients of downloading files from torrent sites and making the files available for upload, as is the nature of such sites.

The “proof” they have cited that each individual has perpetrated the misdemeanour is their IP address. Anyone who has been using a PC on the Internet for anything but the most trivial of browsing knows that an IP address can change over time unless you actually pay for a fixed one. Sometimes your PC will share an IP with another. If you’re silly enough not to secure your wireless LAN then it can be hijacked (though if this is the case of course you are digging a hole for yourself).

In a number of cases the people receiving these letters have been falsely accused due to errors at some point during the trace of the IP. The fact that IP addresses can be spoofed, proxies can be used to mask locations and identities and the really pernicious file-sharers are the sort of people who know how to do it doesn’t seem to have registered with anyone at the law firm or their technical advisors.

In some instances the accusations have been the downloading and distribution of hardcore porn. That sort of thing can ruin someone’s career, not because they are an alleged thief but because of moral judgements about pornography that some people might make.

What happens if someone accused you of accessing images from a site containing extreme porn?

Hopefully this law firm will get its shit together and soon. They have already lost one games publisher who has lost confidence in it to expedite prosecutions without tarnishing the copyright holders public image. Fingers crossed that this will be a catalyst for them to get it right.

Without that, be afraid, be very afraid that the government will be pointing the finger at you soon.