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Digital Britain minister concedes file-sharer 'disconnection'

Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms confirmed on Monday that those accused of unlawfully file-sharing copyrighted material could be 'disconnected' from the internet.Referring to the 'technical measures' in the Digital Economy Bill that could affect those accused of sharing copyrighted material, Timms said: "There will be an appeal available.

Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms confirmed on Monday that those accused of unlawfully file-sharing copyrighted material could be 'disconnected' from the internet.

Referring to the 'technical measures' in the Digital Economy Bill that could affect those accused of sharing copyrighted material, Timms said: "There will be an appeal available. There will be no disconnection until the appeal is heard." He was speaking at a presentation on the Labour government's technology strategy, given by prime minister Gordon Brown.

The difference between the words 'disconnection' and 'suspension' is largely semantic, as one cannot suspend a connection without disconnecting it, but the government has previously shied away from using the d-word. It is still not clear for how long a period people might have their accounts suspended.

Brown's speech was largely concerned with presaging a new era of online interaction between citizenry and government. At one point, the prime minister referred to those who do not have internet access as being "trapped in a second tier of citizenship, denied what I increasingly think of as a fundamental freedom in the modern world: to be part of the internet and technology revolution".

ZDNet UK spoke to Timms after Brown's speech, asking him how a disconnected individual would be able to fully discharge their rights as a citizen. He stressed that technical measures — which could also include bandwidth throttling and site filtering — would be a "last resort".

Asked the same question again, Timms said it was "important that people use their access responsibly and lawfully".

Asked the same question again, the minister said there were "many ways" in which a citizen would be able to exercise their rights after being disconnected. Asked to name one such way, the minister failed to do so.

ZDNet UK then asked the minister how much time would be afforded to debating the Digital Economy Bill in the House of Commons, before it is passed in the 'wash-up' period just before the dissolution of parliament, ahead of the election. He would not say.

Asked whether the bill would spend any time at all in committee stage — a period that usually lasts weeks and involves MPs examining the bill in some detail — the minister again did not give an answer.