We’ve consistently opposed Lord Mandelson’s filesharing proposals since they were announced in August. As we’ve said before, the proposals mean the Government has done a U-turn and rejected the largely sensible and considered ideas put forward in Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report. It would put in place a principle of "guilty until proven innocent" that contradicts fundamental human rights. But moreover the proposals will be totally unworkable – and today we’ve proved why.
One of our internet security experts this morning visited The Highway, a residential road in Stanmore, Middlesex.
Within a couple of hours he had identified 23 wireless connections on the street – more than one-third of the total – which are vulnerable to Wi-Fi hijacking. These connections are either completely unsecured (6%) or use WEP technology (28%) which many users think is secure but is in fact easily hackable by anyone with a laptop computer.
To show how vulnerable people are to unauthorised filesharing, our expert downloaded legal music files from two connections, including Barry Manilow’s hit Mandy and the soundtrack from the 1992 film Peter’s Friends.
Of the 68 Wi-Fi connections on the road only one used the strongest available security (WPA2). The majority (65%) used WPA security which may become hackable in the future. Indeed a vulnerability has already been discovered.
Scarily, The Highway is actually comparatively well protected. Our expert conducted a Wi-Fi survey of central Ealing in West London on 11th October and found that 41% of 1,083 Wi-Fi networks were vulnerable to unauthorised use.
Connecting to a Wi-Fi network is just one way that illegal filesharers can use other people’s internet connections, leaving innocent people vulnerable to disconnection. PC hijacking is another.
The clear implication is that millions of people would be at risk of ‘superhighway robbery’ under Mandelson’s plans.
The risk of innocent people being disconnected is not hypothetical. Consumer organisations such as Which? have been contacted by hundreds of people who have been wrongly accused of filesharing using a similar method to the one Mandelson is suggesting.
This is why we think the Mandelson scheme is wrong-headed and naïve. The lack of presumption of innocence and the absence of judicial process combined with the prevalence of Wi-Fi hijacking will result in innocent people being disconnected.
And the plan won’t work in practice. It will actually encourage offenders to use Wi-Fi and PC hijacking more frequently and so increase the chances of innocent users being falsely accused and disconnected.
It is absurd to make people, in effect, legally responsible for the traffic on their internet connections and require them to prevent any unauthorised traffic.
TalkTalk acknowledges that there is a problem with illegal filesharing and that solutions must be found. First and foremost the content industry must develop new business models to make content more easily available and more affordable.
We are happy to play our role alongside this – we’re currently developing a series of controls which will give parents the ability to block access to certain filesharing sites through their connections, for instance – but we will continue to strongly resist any approach that does not protect the innocent.