China’s internet filter, dubbed the ‘Great Firewall’, is frequently the subject of discussion, and a source of scorn directed at the nation’s Communist government.

But when it comes to defending itself against Great Firewall censorship criticisms, China might soon suggest that its critics look at another country: the UK. That’s because the controversial Digital Economy Bill passed in the House of Commons last night, 189 to 47. And it gives the British government the wonderful ability to filter sites off the internet too.

Although several key portions of the original bill were left out or watered down, one very troubling amendment found its way in. The amendment, made to clause 8 of the bill, essentially allows the Secretary of State for Business to block access to any website based on the mere possibility that it could somehow be involved in copyright infringement, either now or in the future.

The amendment states:

The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the granting by a
court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the internet which
the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in
connection with an activity that infringes copyright.

I, of course, am looking for the clause that permits the creation of the crystal ball that will allow the Secretary of State to predict which sites are “likely to be used for” infringement at some point in the future but haven’t yet located it.

Sarcasm aside, ReadWriteWeb points out:

A little thought on which site might be accused of being “a location on the
internet” where copyright violation might have occurred, or might occur in the
future, and you’re likely to come up with YouTube, BitTorrent, DailyMotion,
WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and Google. To start with.

In other words, the Digital Economy Bill could theoretically be used to block access to literally any website on the internet. Obviously, the operative word here is ‘theoretically‘. Nobody, myself included, is going to suggest that YouTube or Facebook, for instance, are going to be routed into oblivion in the UK. But the fact that the government now has such a broad — and almost unlimited power — is still very disturbing. There’s absolutely no legitimate justification for such broad power, and the fact that lawmakers would seek to seize such power is evidence in and of itself as to why government should not have it.

Needless to say, the Digital Economy Bill will have little to no effect on copyright infringement and piracy in the UK. While I staunchly support the rights of content creators, including their right to seek recourse against accused infringers through the courts, government does not need to serve as the copyright police. The most dedicated ‘pirates‘ are always going to circumvent efforts to thwart their activities, and overzealous, heavy-handed regulation almost always burdens honest consumers and businesses the most. Sadly, that will certainly be the case here.

Photo credit: eviltomthai via Flickr.