Bradshaw: Courts must OK P2P disconnections

People suspected of unlawful file-sharing will not have their broadband service cut off without a court order, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has told a House of Commons committee

Internet users who are suspected of unlawful file-sharing will not have their accounts suspended without a court order, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has said.

Bradshaw told the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee in a Tuesday session that the government had no intention of seeing people cut off "willy-nilly on the basis of an accusation".

The secretary of state was, at the time, being quizzed by backbencher Tom Watson over proposals made in August by Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

In the proposals, which arrived in the middle of an ongoing consultation into how to deal with file-sharing, BIS suggested adding disconnection to the list of sanctions. Disconnection was deliberately left absent from a list of sanctions put forward in the Digital Britain report.

Watson asked Bradshaw whether those accused of unlawful file-sharing "deserve to prove their innocence in a court of law".

"Absolutely," Bradshaw replied. "The suspension to which you refer, which would be as a very last resort for serial and serious infringement... wouldn't just happen on the basis of an accusation. Firstly, there would need to be a court order for any of the technical measures that we're discussing in the consultation document to be implemented, and secondly, there would be a right of appeal to a Tier 1 tribunal."

Watson noted that he had no idea what a Tier 1 tribunal was, and said the term would need future clarification.

"I hope you would not go away with the impression that innocent teenagers are going to be cut off willy-nilly on the basis of an accusation," Bradshaw said. "That is not our intention and is not the effect of what we will propose when we come to publish the [anti-file-sharing] bill."

"If there is a decision to go to technical measures, there will have to be a court order in order to initiate that process," Bradshaw added.

As well as disconnection, the technical measures proposed as sanctions against unlawful file-sharers include bandwidth reduction and protocol blocking. However, it is unclear whether Bradshaw meant to say these other measures would also require court orders.

The BIS proposals have met with stiff opposition from the UK's ISPs, which have argued that "disconnecting users from the internet would place serious limits on their freedom of expression".

On Thursday last week, the country's largest ISP, TalkTalk, said widespread insecurity in people's home Wi-Fi connections meant the BIS proposals would lead to innocent people being disconnected.