The government is considering introducing new laws that could force ISPs to terminate the broadband connections of illegal downloaders.

The proposals are contained in a Green Paper consultation document that sets out a ‘three strikes’ approach to dealing with the problem. Under the proposals, illegal downloaders would first receive an email warning, followed by a suspension, followed by termination of their contract.

ISPs to face prosecution

According to the Times newspaper, which obtained a leaked copy of the Green Paper and broke the story, the proposals also include a clause that could see ISPs prosecuted if they fail to enforce the ‘three strikes’ rule. The Times reports that there is no clear indication in the paper as to whether ISPs would be forced to share information on terminated contracts.

Clearly, the proposals have been welcomed with open arms by the entertainment industry, but come as something of a bombshell for the major ISPs, who have been working towards self-regulation.

The UK’s four leading ISPs – Orange, BT, Tiscali and Virgin – have been in discussions with the entertainment industry over the introduction of a voluntary scheme, but as yet no agreement has been reached. One of the main sticking points has been how to resolve the issue of people ‘piggybacking’ on unsecured wireless networks.

'Technically unworkable' according to experts

Commenting on the government’s proposals, a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) indicated to the BBC that the draft proposals were all but unworkable from a technical perspective:

“ISPs are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the Post Office is able to open every envelope. ISPs bear no liability for illegal file sharing as the content is not hosted on their servers," the ISPA spokesperson was reported as saying.

Privacy concerns

Notwithstanding the technical issues, the idea of ISPs being forced to monitor their customers’ web activities also raises serious privacy issues. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether any enforced snooping would be deemed legal under the Data Protection Act.

And of course, there is also the issue of who will end up footing the bill for any additional surveillance costs. One thing’s for sure – it won’t be the RIAA or the BPI. Neither, in all likeliness, are the ISPs likely to dig into their own pockets. That only leaves one other option – broadband customers themselves.