Internet industry slams villainous data retention

This year's ISPA Internet Villain is the UK government, although BT may have put in an early bid for the 2007 award with some on-stage banter at the awards ceremony

The UK government walked off with the title of Internet Villain of the year on Thursday night, for pushing for tougher data retention laws in Europe.

The award was presented at the ISPAs, the annual awards evening organised by the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA).

During its presidency of the European Commission last year, the UK government drove forward the data retention directive. It forces ISPs and fixed-line and mobile operators to keep details of their customers' communications for up to two years.

ISPA said that the UK government had won the award for "seeking EU wide data retention laws which will force ISPs and telcos to retain more data for longer without proper impact assessment".

The other nominees for the award were:

  • European Commissioner Reding "for the revision of the TV without Frontiers Directive which threatens ISPs by extending the scope of broadcasting regulation to content delivered via the Internet, in a market which is not yet fully developed."
  • The European Commission "for its inability to get through one year without producing yet another piece of intellectual-property Legislation."
  • Russia "for failing to deal with illegal Web sites and online abuse hosted within its borders".
  • Sony BMG "for compromising the security of its customers’ PCs with its copyright-protecting rootkit technology"

Sony's actions sparked calls for a boycott of the company last year, but it's understood that the judges were swayed by the massive costs that ISPs could face in order to comply with the data retention directive.

ISPA also awarded the title of the Internet Hero of the Year to the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group (APIG). Last year, APIG called on the government to update the UK's cybercrime laws, which are widely seen as out-of-date.

Other nominees for the Internet Hero award were:

  • Ofcom "for not wrecking the 0845 regime used to access pay-as-you-go Internet services" and "for recognising its role in ensuring that Service Providers deliver on their quality of service promises to end-users."
  • The Independent Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator "for helping to develop new local-loop unbundling products and processes, and for mediating working-level implementation disputes."
  • Roger Darlington "for his hard work as Chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation from which he retires this year."

Previous winners of the Internet Villain award include BT, which picked up the gong in 2001 at a time when the industry was furious about the slow pace of broadband rollout.

Relations between BT and the rest of the industry are now much better, although they did suffer a slight blip during the award ceremony. BT Wholesale had sponsored the Best Light Business Broadband category, but when reading out the short-listed companies the company's representative mispronounced one of them, Exa Networks, as "Extra Networks".

When Exa Networks called out from their table to correct the error, BT Wholesale responded with "you're just a customer", which sparked some hissing and groaning around the black-tie bash.

Exa Networks promptly won the award, and took the opportunity to tell the throng that "we're proud to be just a BT customer."