Dictatorial, disastrous, dire: Mandelson must not pass

Without debate, without public consulation, without any form of mandate, Lord Mandelson - an unelected politician - is preparing to place the rights of powerful industrial concerns above those of Parliament and above ours.The powers that he wants to create - by means of a statutory instrument, which bypasses Parliamentary debate and decision - will criminalise downloading of content without permission.

Without debate, without public consulation, without any form of mandate, Lord Mandelson - an unelected politician - is preparing to place the rights of powerful industrial concerns above those of Parliament and above ours.

The powers that he wants to create - by means of a statutory instrument, which bypasses Parliamentary debate and decision - will criminalise downloading of content without permission. They will give him or anyone he chooses the power to enforce by law any action he or his successor thinks fit, in the service of protecting copyright.

And they will give industry bodies, such as the BPI, FAST and so on, powers of investigation tantamount to those of the police force. The risk of copyright infringment would be enough to force any company to patrol its actions and offerings, closing down anything that might land them in the dock. The freedom of the Internet would be gone. It is placing the future of the Net, with the force of law, in the hands of those who depend on artificial scarcity. It is antithetical to everything that matters in the digital world.

By any measure, these are extraordinarily dangerous moves. That he is attempting them by an undemocratic process turns them into a profoundly mendacious power grab by forces who have never been reluctant to place their own interests above all else - often in the name of the law and of freedom.

Should these moves succeed, the Internet in the UK will be thrust back thirty years, when a state monopoly with commercial interests was the gatekeeper to all online information - and where that information was only held by other large organisations.

But Internet users would be thrown into another dimension, one where every action must be monitored, every access cleared, every file transfer a potential criminal act. A dimension policed and enforced, moreover, by those with a direct financial interest in preventing new models of distribution, of enforcing the idea that they and they alone can set the rules for information-driven commerce.

Nothing would be untouched. Everything on the Internet is a transfer of information, and all information may be copyright. Thus, every action on the Internet would be a potential criminal act, and everyone connected would have a duty to make sure it wasn't. Be sure that that duty will be imposed with eagerness.

It would be easy to use the metaphors of the police state, of corporate monopoly, of any society where the state turns on its own citizens. Easy, but wrong: what is being proposed is new, one where the very machinery that runs our lives is handed over to a special interest group with a history of saying and doing the maximum it can get away with for its own survival and prosperity.

No wonder he dare not go through Parliament. No wonder he has not published his proposals.

What Mandleson is trying to do is not far short of a coup, a power grab from Parliament and from us. It should be treated as such, and shut down with speed and permanence.