Open Rights Group demonstrates against the Digital Economy Bill, as parliament confirms date for second reading

Around 300 people attended a demonstration last night at parliament against the proposed Digital Economy Bill.

Organised by the Open Rights Group (ORG), speakers included MPs and attendees wore black tape on their mouths in a demonstration of censorship. The speakers were unanimous in their appreciation of those who showed up, and the demonstration occurred just hours before the announcement that the Digital Economy Bill's second reading will be on the 6th April.

Open Rights Group co-founder Cory Doctorow, said: “Imagine if I said to you that I had a single wire that could deliver in it freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, access to communities, ideas and tools, access to schools and to civil engagement, to politics, to everything that matters in the 21st century - and then I say I am going to take that wire and regulate it so it is a glorified way of getting Lily Allen tracks without paying for them and downloading Police Academy sequels. You would say I was mad.

“That is what is on the plate today with the digital economy bill, it may be proportionate to disconnect people from the internet if that is all it was good for, if it was just a way of getting content without paying for it, but the internet is so much more. The idea that we will disconnect the entire internet from one household because one person who happens to live there has been accused, without any evidence, of doing something naughty with copyright is so vastly disproportionate so it is amazing to hear that grown adults are actually contemplating it.”

Bridget Fox, prospective MP for the Liberal Democrats in Islington South & Finsbury, commented that she started out campaigning for freedom of information under a Conservative government and is now campaigning against freedom of exchange of information under a Labour government.

She said: “I am delighted that the Lib Dems at their recent conference virtually unanimously backed my motion to put opposition to web blocking, opposition to disconnection and defence of your freedom and my freedom to access the internet, and that we lived up to our names as liberals and as democrats.”

Another prospective MP was Tom Chance, the Green Party candidate for The Lane (Peckham). He said: “It is really exciting to see people from two political parties and members of the ORG and so many activists. We have an undemocratic institution in the Houses of Parliament with an undemocratic electoral system, and the House of Lords have pushed this through and the Government seems intent to do this without any debate.”

Civil service minister in the Cabinet Office, Tom Watson, who ORG executive director Jim Killock described as a ‘stalwart campaigner', said that the bill was one of the most complex he has seen in his nine years in parliament. "If it goes to a committee stage in 90 minutes on the last day of parliament before a general election, it will be nothing short of a constitutional impropriatary," said Watson.

He said: “Whatever your views on copyright reform it is simply unacceptable that the elected chamber does not have enough time to discuss these important technical measures. Blocking websites, we know where they do that, they do it in China they should not be doing it in the UK.

“The internet is a source of knowledge, it is a force for good, it provides freedom and sharing knowledge is going to make a better society and we need to persuade parliament of that and you are all doing a great thing today by being here together to get that message across.”

Reacting this morning to the scheduling of the Digital Economy Bill's second reading debate for 6 April, Killock said: “Over 17,000 letters have been sent objecting to this Bill being rushed through. This bill will restrict individual rights and freedoms and punish innocent people by disconnecting them. This needs democratic debate; it cannot simply be pushed through during 'wash up'.”

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