Are Media Owners Trying To Hijack Terror Legislation?

Media Industries Try To Hijack Terror LegislationThe digital rights campaigning group, Open Rights Group, reports that the music industry is lobbying MEPs to co-opt the EU Data Retention legislation currently being debated by the European Parliament.

Music industry body, the Creative and Media Business Alliance (CMBA), wants data-snooping legislation aimed at the prevention of terrorism to be made available for the prosecution of any crime, such as copyright infringement.

The move has been condemned by the Open Rights Group and other civil liberties groups across Europe, with campaigners calling on the Alliance’s members – which include industry bigwigs like Sony BMG, Warner Music, Disney, and EMI – to retract their demands.

The Data Retention draft framework was originally cooked up by Sweden, Ireland, France and the UK, aiming at “the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of serious criminal offences such as terrorism and organised crime” by forcing telecommunications and Internet service providers to retain ‘traffic data’ (i.e. information about your phone calls and Internet activities.)

Keen to exploit the legislation for their own commercial gain, the CMBA has demanded that this data should be made available for the prosecution of any crime – e.g. illegal music file sharing – and not just serious organised crime and terrorism.

Media Industries Try To Hijack Terror LegislationCoupled with the upcoming IPRED2 legislation (which creates new, Europe-wide criminal offences for intellectual property infringement), campaigners fear that we could end up with a situation where the music industry would be able to pursue criminal court copyright prosecutions entirely at the cost of the taxpayer.

Worryingly, the Open Rights Group reports that the both the Data Retention and IPRED2 directives are being “fast-tracked” through the EU by short-circuiting normal legislative processes.

This means that there will only be one reading in the European Parliament, instead of the normal two, with sources from within the Parliamentary system indicating that some MEPs aren’t aware that the usual democratic process is being bypassed.

A tight timetable means that MEPs are only going to have a couple of days to assess the Data Retention proposal with the final vote occurring on the 13 December.

“The passing of the Data Retention directive would be a disaster not just for civil liberties and human rights in Europe”, said Open Rights Group director Suw Charman, “it would also put a substantial financial burden on telcos and ISPs which would be passed on to the consumer either in the form of raised bills or through government subsidies funded by the taxpayer.”

Media Industries Try To Hijack Terror LegislationIan Brown, of the Open Rights Group (not the Stone Roses), said: “The British government claimed that Data Retention was essential in the fight against terrorism and serious crime, but it has now become clear that groups with commercial interests have their eye on the same data. Charles Clarke cannot continue to pretend that this legislation has been drafted purely for reasons of national security.”

Gus Hosein, Senior Fellow at Privacy International, was equally unimpressed: “The EU has been claiming that data retention was some urgent policy response to terrorist attacks. But they are carefully drafting this legislation to ensure that it can be used for all purposes under the sun.”

“Ironically, the EU seems to be going at it alone: even the U.S. Bush Administration is not proposing such a ludicrous policy, despite the strong lobbying by Hollywood.” he added.

There are fears that if the CMBA is successful, the increased number of demands for access could affect the usefulness of the legislation as an anti- terrorism tool.

The Open Rights Group argue that if British record labels set up prosecution ‘production lines’ like their American counterparts, the system could collapse under the strain, clogging up reasonable and legitimate enquiries into genuine terrorist or serious crime activity.

Today, Sjoera Nas, Board Member of EDRi and Co-Director of Bits of Freedom presented a 58,000 signatures petition to the Chairman of the Committee, Green Party MEPs, Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats.

Nas commented, “Last minute negotiations with representatives of the European Council have lead to what we feared the worst – a draconian directive that flies in the face of our recommendations.”

“We can only hope that the European Parliament will come to its senses and realise that they cannot turn Europe into a surveillance society overnight without throwing away all human rights,” she added.

Open Rights Group