Freedom of information requests have revealed that Peter Mandelson, the UK's then Business Secretary of State, made the decision to sanctify aspects of the Digital Economy Act, even as the public consultation was under way.
One of the Act's more controversial sections, that internet connections be cut off if enough infringement claims are made against the household (even if these claims are never proven to be true), is under particular scrutiny.
It seems that the idea of disconnection was pushed by Mandelson under the influence of Lucien Grainge, the CEO of Universal Music.
Shortly after the two men met in person, Grainge wrote to Mandelson in a letter dated 9 July 2009:
"Digital Britain's two proposals: Ofcom's letters to file sharers and the ability for music companies to prosecute persistent offenders are not enough on their own.
"Government must start planning for step three now – a statutory obligation on ISPs to crack down on persistent file-sharers by cutting bandwidth and suspending and blacklisting their accounts.
"This is outlined in Digital Britain but not due to be implemented for years. It is essential that this power is included in the Digital Economy Bill…
"Step 3 would help create a level playing field between all of the internet service providers, and therefore allow the market place to stop piracy rather than just the courts."
The public consultation was ongoing at this point, to be kept open until around two months after these letters; but Mandelson's decision had already been made, with no consideration for public opinion.
"Seen to be…"
Soon after, a letter from Mandelson's private secretary, sent on 25 August 2009, notes, "The Secretary of State has seen your submission and commented "please tell Kevin and press handlers that we need to be seen to be balanced, genuinely consulting and sensitive to individuals who may unwittingly fall foul of the law".
The Digital Economy Act has been surrounded by controversy ever since it was first announced with hastily drawn up plans that were rushed through parliament, while challenges from ISPs, the Lib Dems and a public consultation were left by the wayside.
As Loz Kaye, chair of Pirate Party UK, put it to TorrentFreak, which unearthed the letters: "These documents show how outrageously complicit everyone from the entertainment industry, politicians and unions were in framing the Digital Economy Act.
"Its most controversial aspect – suspending people from the Internet – was already sorted out in July 2009. It appears that the consultation was just for show, and the lobbyists got all they asked for.
"There are now serious questions to be asked of successive governments' relations to groups like Universal Music and the BPI."
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