The International Federation of Library Associations has urged a parliamentary select committee to closely examine the Digital Economy Act, which it says raises fundamental freedom of expression and privacy issues.
In a letter sent to the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee earlier this week, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) — which represents over 750,000 library and information professionals in more than 150 countries — said the act could have negative consequences for UK libraries. The letter was identical to one submitted by IFLA to the European Commission last month.
The select committee will next week discuss cost-related aspects of the act, which is a piece of legislation designed to crack down on online copyright infringement.
"Ofcom confirmed that a library could be considered both an internet service provider and a subscriber," IFLA wrote. "As an ISP, a library can be made responsible for the monitoring of their networks for copyright infringement and incur significant financial obligations as a result. As a subscriber, libraries are likely to receive notifications from their ISP to the effect that a copyright owner has made a report against them for alleged copyright infringement.
"The financial and time costs of complying with or appealing against this type of situation cannot be underestimated, nor can the types of penalty that could be imposed on libraries as result of an infringement by an individual user, such as the imposition of technical measures (such as reductions in quality of internet service, which ultimately affect library users)."
IFLA argued that, "at a time when library budgets are being cut across the United Kingdom and Europe, it is worrying that the UK government is proceeding in implementing provisions which will impose an unknown, yet likely to be significant, cost on all types of ISP as defined by the act".
"Adequate impact assessment have not been undertaken to assess the true financial implications of the act," the federation added.
IFLA also said the web-monitoring aspects of the act ran counter to libraries' mission of providing freedom of access to information to their users. "Not only does the legislation potentially lead to or encourage the adoption of blocking technologies that are valuable for learning and information sharing in an educational context, it also raises fundamental freedom of expression and privacy issues as public bodies inevitably monitor the activities of their users," the federation said.
"The chilling effect of the monitoring of internet use should not be underestimated, and the electronic recording of library users' information seeking activities is not consistent with a democratic approach to access to knowledge. Library users should be free to seek information without barriers, and without fear of surveillance."