File sharing: are you breaking the law? Government action on file sharing
The government plans to get tough on people who illegally file share but the plans don’t make allowances for people who may be wrongly accused.
It has proposed a system based on a graduated response for illegal file sharers. This response includes warning letters, a public education campaign and further action against serious offenders.
The details of this process are set out in the Digital Economy Act which currently leaves open the option for tougher ‘technical’ measures, such as reducing broadband speed or temporarily suspending a customer’s account to be used.
The bill is now law, but it won't be implemented until 2011.
Will the government's approach work?
Which? thinks that the government’s approach is fundamentally flawed because it relies on using an IP address to identify someone who has been illegally file sharing, but we know this is not enough to prove an individual’s guilt.
An IP address is a unique number – for example 126.96.36.199 - that identifies a computer connected to the internet. There are a number of ways that an IP address can be incorrectly assigned, for example:
- Many internet users are given a ‘dynamic’ IP address, which is allocated to a customer only for as long as they're using the internet. It will then be allocated to another user. If there's any confusion over the date or time, which is easily possible, the wrong person will be identified.
- An IP address is easy to mis-transcribe, so an ISP could easily disclose details of the wrong customer.
There are also ways in which an IP address can be hi-jacked:
- An unsecured wi-fi connection is at risk of being used by a stranger to illegally file share and this activity will go undetected
- Experienced file sharers can ‘spoof’ or mask their own IP address with someone else’s