Thursday 30 September 2010

Everyone's talking about ACS Law (and it's not a new TV series)

By far the most interesting story in the headlines this week has been the release of personal information about alleged file-sharers, acquired from the now-notorious ACS Law. The combination of porn, lawyers , hackers and money seems to have captured the public’s imagination. But for me, the most interest lies in the ISPs, the encryption of personal data, and the implications for the UK’s copyright law.

A very good discussion of the attitudes of ISPs appears on ‘dot.Rory’. In the GQ article on music piracy (which I discussed a few weeks ago), McGuinness complains that ISPs have made billions from the illegal sharing of content. However I firmly disagree with the scatter-gun approach companies like ACS Law take to try and remunerate copyright holders. I was impressed to learn that two ISPs (Virgin Media and TalkTalk) have refused to hand over personal data to law firms. My new-found respect for these companies may well influence my future buying patterns.

The episode has brought the importance of encrypting data prior to sending it into the spotlight. Given that most people assume that their email accounts are secure, I expect a lot of files are currently sent unencrypted. Further, it raises the question of the level of encryption required, as many forms of encryption can be broken by a skilled and determined hacker. The story, this week, of a group of internet fraudsters who stole millions from online bank accounts has shown just how vulnerable our information security can be, even when we think we are taking all the right precautions.

And finally, the ACS Law episode has stimulated discussion about the Digital Economy Act and the practicalities of implementing it. The public anger against ACS Law, Sky and Plusnet is going to make ISPs more reluctant to take sanctions against file sharers. Furthermore, the online community 4chan has proved it has the will and the resources to put up a guerrilla fight against organisations trying to fight file sharing. The need to come up with a viable solution to support content-owners rights in a digital world is now stronger than ever. And a war that has had a relatively low profile until now, has become front page news.

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