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Broadband provider TalkTalk has dubbed new government proposals to tackle online piracy impractical and likely to cause a breach of privacy and human rights legislation.

Earlier this year, the Digital Britain report mooted a host of new measures to combat illegal file-sharing. These included sending written warnings to those engaged in the practice as well as legal action against persistent offenders. Also proposed was a program of education to show the impact that piracy has on the creative industries and make consumers aware of the risks involved.

These proposals were broadly supported by TalkTalk on the grounds that they were reasonably practicable. They also found favour among rival broadband suppliers, many of whom had been fearful that the report would recommend making them directly culpable for policing their customers’ activity.

However, this week it emerged that an alternative set of proposals, apparently spearheaded by Lord Mandelson, is under consideration. Among these is disconnecting illegal downloaders and it is this that has prompted the outcry from TalkTalk.

The apparent volte-face in the government’s line on piracy has been linked by many in the broadband sector to a meeting Lord Mandelson had with David Geffen, one of the three co-heads of entertainment giant Dreamworks, on August 7th. It is speculated that the meeting has lead directly to the change in policy.

According to the value broadband specialist, disconnection is not a pragmatic option and presents a host of problems, not least is of which is that it brings with it a “likely breach fundamental human rights”. The telecommunications firm also posits that innocent people could be affected and that ultimately disconnection would be unworkable.

A statement from TalkTalk read: “Disconnecting alleged offenders will be futile given that it is relatively easy for determined filesharers to mask their identity or their activity to avoid detection.

“The evidence that is used to identify offenders is unreliable due to the prevalence of multi-users per account and wifi-hijacking and so will result in innocent customers being cut-off from broadband.”

“We also believe that these measures will breach fundamental human rights to privacy, data protection and basic freedoms from intrusion and monitoring. If disconnection is carried out in an extra-judicial way alleged offenders will be denied basic legal rights such as right of appeal and the ability to see and interrogate the evidence. This is a view shared by consumer groups.”

Warning that it would “strongly resist” attempts to compel broadband companies to act as ‘internet police’, TalkTalk went on to restate its support for the previous proposals. Additionally, the company noted that, as well as broadband providers, responsibility for cracking down on piracy lies with music companies who must come up with new business models that sufficiently disincentivise the practice.

Commenting on developments, Alex Buttle, director at Top 10 Broadband, expressed surprise at the speed with which the government is considering scrapping policies that as yet remain untested.

Mr Buttle said: “We strongly sympathise with TalkTalk’s position on the mooted anti-piracy reforms. Switching off home broadband connections with unreliable methods is not the answer to the issue."

He added: "It’s puzzling that after two long years of consultation the Digital Britain report's recommendations have been discarded. Surely after this lengthy period of investigation, the suggested policies should at least be tried out?”

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