On Rule-Of-Law in Ireland, and Preservation of Free Speech: Please Reject Three-Strikes

Dear Mr. Bruton,

I am writing to you (and simultaneously to my blog, where further correspondence will be forwarded) to ask that you reconsider your support of a Three-Strikes policy on internet use in Ireland.

There are many reasons for you to do so. Chiefly among them, I feel, is the threat to our judicial system if this system becomes part of Irish law. By legitimising the surveillance of corporate bodies on Irish citizens, and by permitting these foreign corporate bodies to realise a powerful ability normally reserved for state agencies (the power to effectively silence a citizen of Ireland), the Three-Strikes policy will set a precedent whereby privatisation of legal power becomes acceptable. As things stand, there is already a body of law that protects copyright, through which individuals who infringe upon copyrighted works can be prosecuted; there is no need to “streamline” the law by passing Garda powers to IRMA, especially considering that their internal judgement will be opaque and beyond judicial reproach without a costly legal battle.

However, an erosion of our legal system is only the most obvious reason; there are others which, by reducto ad absurdum, can readily be invoked to show why the Three-Strikes system is not only a threat to Irish law, but to innocent citizens of Ireland and to Ireland’s role in the development of the ever-advancing information economy. Not to mention, the Three-Strikes rule will not adequately protect against music infringement even if perfectly implemented.

Firstly and perhaps most tellingly is the assumption that an IP address equates to an individual or even to a family, a pernicious assumption that supports the entire reasoning behind Three Strikes. However, it is a false, misleading and legally dangerous assumption that will certainly lead to a sizeable percentage of illegitimate cut-offs.

The “IP Address” that is supposed to be unique and identifying is anything but; an IP address relates, rather, to an internet router, to which many computers may be connected and which may be at any point in the internet distribution chain. Indeed, users of mobile broadband dongles or phones may often share only a handful of IP addresses between hundreds or thousands of customers. Users of a complementary or even pay-as-you-go Wifi hotspot will share the IP address of the hotspot. Neighbours who share a wifi router, or householders whose router is hacked to gain access by an outsider (a trivial task with the right software, even for a non-professional), will be identified as infringers on account of misuse of their connections. Finally, social routing systems that protect free speech may be misused, with the “exit node” and its owner being associated under a Three-Strikes regime with the offending IP address.

Consider the above; in order to meaningfully implement a law that uses IP addresses in an identifying manner, Ireland would have to force ISPs to set up static IP addresses assigned to each customer, and would have to illegalise the sharing of computers, connections, wifi or bluetooth. Cellular internet would become essentially impossible to implement legally. Free-speech enabling software which currently allows Chinese, Libyan, North Korean and certain American civil rights advocates to communicate without government censure or arrest would become illegal in Ireland; a tacit approval of anti-democratic states globally in favour of private profits.

Even if implemented perfectly with all of those draconian measures (which would succeed in driving Ireland into a stone-age of technology as the internet becomes ever more important to global society), sharing of music, movies and software would continue to be trivial. If bittorrent becomes impractical, individuals will simply choose another method of sharing which is more secure. Examples I might name include highly encrypted onion routing systems such as Tor (which is supposed to be used for Free Speech, I might add), encrypted web-of-trust methods such as Freenet, or simply sharing music in person by Hard Disk or USB drive, a virtually invisible and effortless means of sharing without oversight.

I hope the above demonstrates clearly that Three Strikes will cause more harm than good. If that’s not enough however, please consider the state of Irish internet and what this will mean commercially for our development as a state, and what that will mean for business. Exports are already a difficult prospect for Ireland at present, and an information based economy is one of Ireland’s most promising opportunities for growth, because of low capital overheads for internet startups and software companies. If Three Strikes forces a burden of internal restructuring and vastly expanded internal surveillance on Irish ISPs, they will be less able to afford competitive plans or further rollouts of broadband. Please look at a comparison of existing broadband in Ireland to our European counterparts; certain countries have a minimally acceptable broadband as a “Human Right” that equals or exceeds some of the best commonly available broadband in Ireland. Bandwidth needs will trend upwards over time without doubt; Ireland is already falling behind and an additional burden on our ISPs will only make matters worse.

Censorship in Ireland is becoming a serious threat to our freedoms of speech and expression, and granting legal power to the chief architects of this trend will only make matters worse. Three Strikes will not protect the Copyright Industry or their local arm, IRMA. It will certainly not protect or benefit Irish artists in need of further protection. It will not prevent, ameliorate or diminish filesharing, which is driven by technology far more advanced than the legislative branch in Ireland has power to counteract, and by ill-will towards the companies that are driving this law.

Three Strikes _will_ damage our freedoms, lead to false accusations and cut-offs of a critical educational, social and commercial pillar of modern life, and prevent Ireland from adapting and taking advantage of an increasingly important area of growth.

Again, please take some time and reconsider Three Strikes. If you still feel that it is best for Ireland, then do the right thing; ask Ireland by a referendum, because the impact of this law will be devastating to our country’s future online.

Yours,

Cathal Garvey, BSc