Leveson Collateral Damage

Now I am clearer on the details of the press hacking regulation that’s being railroaded through the UK Parliament, I just sent this to my MP.  Feel free to borrow from it.

Dear $MP,

I’m one of your constituents ($postcode), as well as being a pro bono director of Open Rights Group and a writer on digital rights issues.

I am extremely concerned about the way the Leveson response is being railroaded through Parliament. I see all the main decisions have been made without Parliamentary scrutiny and are about to be introduced with a nod & wink in the Crime & Courts Bill discussion in the Lords on Monday (see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0137/amend/pbc1371803m.pdf). I’m contacting you directly as time is very short for you to act by expressing concern over the lack of due process and the risk of collateral damage.

I’ve discussed this with my colleagues both in my own consulting practice and at ORG. We believe that serious conceptual flaws exist in the language of the amendments, and that unwittingly the Leveson responses – nominally targetting large media corporations – will end up introducing new rules that regulate internet publishing by much smaller entities which were never targetted by Leveson.

As an example, Apple could use these new provisions to chill disclosure of newsworthy product leaks such as http://www.macrumors.com/2011/12/26/2011-biggest-apple-product-leaks/. A company like Monsanto could use them to discourage public criticism of its strategies. Energy companies could use them to threaten and chill coverage of climate change. Perhaps even whalers could use them to silence Greenpeace supporters.

From reading amendment NC29, pretty much any web site with adverts or run by someone with a consulting activity could be construed as “in the course of a business” and many bloggers have guests, co-writers and translations that plausibly qualify as “written by different authors”. It’s entirely feasible that a corporation could threaten litigation under these measures to chill discourse. Amendment NS5 offers no comfort.

These corporate repurposers don’t have to be right, and it doesn’t even need to go to court to have a chilling effect. With such high stakes, most of us would just fold rather than risk such enormous penalties. As drafted, the amendments create new weapons for corporate litigants that worry me and others greatly.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but the whole response is being railroaded by very narrowly-focussed non-experts with no concern for the collateral damage they are doing. The last time I recall this sort of panic – over the Terrorism Act Section 44 which started out as “preventing terrorism” – we ended up with “random stop-and-search powers being exercised by the Met on any motorist they felt like bothering”.

Please can you consider the matter and if you agrees urgently express my concerns? I am available for discussion by phone.

Update: ORG now has an easy form to help you write to both your MP and the party leaders.

2 Responses

  1. […] he has also posted a similar template on his blog.  Hopefully his effort will not be for naught, but do remember that MPs do not like […]

  2. […] Leveson Collateral Damage […]

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