No man is an island, no man stands alone
Each man's joy is joy to me
Each man's grief is my own
We need one another, so I will defend
Each man as my brother
Each man as my friend
-No Man Is An Island, Traditional
It looks like Britain is seriously considering going ahead with its three strikes Internet ban for accused pirates. I have previously written on exactly how monstrous this law (and others like it) might be. But, for a brief moment, I entertained the possibility that the law’s drafters have a noble goal at heart—to unite mankind by forcing one man to pay for his brother’s sins. A little scary that they would go to these lengths, but maybe just maybe this is the result of a desire to raise consciousness of a collective humanity rather than a symptom of shortsighted stupidity.
But that fun little thought experiment didn't last long. Industry representatives seem to realize that violating tenets of tempered justice that date back to the enlightenment might not be such a good thing. Recently, Shira Perlmutter of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry claimed during a panel discussion at the Congressional Internet Caucus' State of the Net conference that ISPs will only punish the offender's account and thus will (miraculously) avoid inflicting collateral damage on the whole family.
What world is this industry group thinking of? What family has multiple Internet accounts? Further, even if they do have multiple accounts, what would keep little pirate Jimmy from hopping onto little innocent Suzy’s Internet? Perhaps they are developing an app that requires you to double pinky swear that you aren’t Jimmy every time you log on. I call shenanigans.
Make no mistake. This law makes you your brother’s keeper. And your roommate’s. And of anyone who might be leeching off your connection. There is no way to cut off the Internet connection of an individual without trampling on the economic rights of cohabitants (to say nothing of their speech rights).
But wait, it gets better. What if your connection has been disconnected unfairly (remember, no due process guaranteed here, accusations are enough to kill your connection)? Lord Mendelson, the Bill's champion and friend of the Entertainment industry, has foreseen that these sorts of appeals will be legion. To fund this logjam, he argues that you should have to pay your own money to secure a hearing. Wow, so they get you coming and going. Double trouble.
Why should this insane Brit law worry me? Because there is a great chance that we are already negotiating similar provisions in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Read the latest examples of zero transparency in ACTA and shiver.
Let’s clear this up. ISPs cannot be trusted to execute pinpoint Internet amputation. A law that kills your shared Internet connection harms other users. And any system that is practically designed to spit out false positives and then charges individuals for the right to appeal? That’s just an old-fashioned shakedown.
I am all for caring for my fellow man (Apathetic people of the world unite! …. Or don't. Whatever.). I honestly hope that I can reach the point where each man’s joy is joy to me. But please, please, please, don’t make each man’s grief my own. While I do reject many other elements of the enlightenment ("I'm telling you people, the Earth revolves around the Sun!" "Burn him!"), I like the idea of avoiding collective punishment. There is no way, short of mandating some sort of biometric verification/restriction, to digitally kill only one member of a household.
(Andrew Moshirnia is a second-year law student at Harvard Law School and a CMLP blogger. He is beginning to suspect there will be no pie in the sky when he dies.)