The Digital Economy Act
The act addresses policy issues related to electronic communications infrastructure and services, and updates the conditions for and sentencing of criminal copyright infringement.
The provisions of the act include:
- Allowing data sharing between government departments in order to provide Digital Government.
- Creating an age-verification regulator to publish guidelines about how pornographic websites which operate "on a commercial basis" should ensure their users are aged 18 or older. The regulator is empowered to fine those who fail to comply up to £250,000 (or up to 5% of their turnover), to order the blocking of non-compliant websites, and to require those providing financial or advertising services to non-compliant websites to cease doing so. The regulator's proposals have to be approved three months before coming into effect. The BBFC has been commissioned to fulfil the regulatory role. Age-verification was expected to begin in 2018 but has been delayed until spring 2019.
- Requiring Internet service providers to use Internet filters to block all websites that have adult content, unless customers have opted out.
- Introducing a Universal Service Obligation which allows users to request broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps. The obligation is to be introduced by 2020, and Ofcom are empowered to subsequently increase the minimum broadband speed requirement.
- Requiring Internet service providers to provide compensation to customers if service requirements are not met.
- Allowing Ofcom, the communications sector's regulator, to financially penalise communications providers for failing to comply with licence commitments.
- Requiring mobile telephony providers to offer a contract cap to customers limiting monthly spending to an agreed figure.
- Providing for increased penalties for nuisance calls.
- Updating the Ofcom Electronic Communications Code to make it easier for telecommunications companies to erect and extend mobile masts.
- Extending Public Lending Right to remotely lent e-books (section 31 of the Act).
- Modifying the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to raise the maximum sentence for Internet copyright infringement to 10 years in prison, and allowing English and Welsh courts a greater range of sentencing options in such cases.
- Modifying the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to allow public service broadcasters to charge retransmission fees.
- Giving Ofcom oversight of the BBC as its external regulator.
- Empowering Ofcom to require public service broadcasters to include a minimum quantity of children's programming made in the United Kingdom.
The Open Rights Group (ORG), a digital rights campaigning organisation, raised concerns over aspects of the Bill. The provisions for the age verification of pornographic website users raised concerns about the privacy implications of collecting user data, and the possible ineffectiveness of a method focused on restricting payments to pornographic websites.
They highlighted the potential vulnerability of age verification systems to Security hacking, and suggested that it would result in more people using virtual private networks (VPN), or anonymous web browsers such as Tor (anonymity network)
The ORG also raised concerns over the risk of misuse of bulk data sharing. The provisions regarding copyright infringements were criticised for the vagueness of the definition and the severity of the maximum sentence (10 years in prison). BILETA, the British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association, also criticised the proposal to increase maximum jail term in its submission to the Government's consultation. The proposal was described as 'unacceptable', 'unaffordable', and 'infeasible'. It has been suggested that this provision may be intended to dissuade users of technology such as Kodi (software) from downloading content that breaches copyright regulations.
A number of expert witnesses to the Digital Economy Bill Committee expressed concerns about the bill. Some expressed the opinion that the bill was based on an "obsolete" model of data sharing. They commented: "I find it surprising the bill doesn’t have definition of what data sharing is, both practically and legally… I’d like to see some precision around what’s meant by data sharing. The lack of detail is concerning." He also said that the bill "appears to weaken citizens’ control over their personal data", something that is "likely to undermine trust in government and make citizens less willing to share their personal data".