Archive for January 31st, 2010

A Long Week – and the Digital Economy Bill

A week between postings – unusual enough to tell you that I’ve been concentrating on other things I guess.

This week has been dominated by a couple of things, the main one of which has been my proposals on a new IT Operations Model for the Corporate Review of IT.

I am now well on with the paper that will go to the Executive in early March. Whilst that probably sounds like I’m well ahead, I’ve to take the paper to the Steering Group on the 5 February, for their comments, before I can finalise the paper. I also have to write a business case.

However, getting a full final draft of the main paper has been the most important aspect of what I’ve had to do so far.

One of my personal other ‘notable’ events was the preparations for the move of IT Infrastructure staff from City to HBP. On Monday the screens came down and the whole area was pretty much opened up. I liked it, personally, but I could understand a couple of comments from people who felt exposed by the ‘wall’ being removed. By Friday afternoon most of the staff in the main open area had moved and all that was left was furniture and various detritus. It looks very strange without them.

Accommodation featured highly again this week, as Facilities discuss options for space planning Howard Level 4 for when IT and Media staff move here. FD are again facing the challenge of trying to fit everything into the right kinds of space in the right kinds of place. That may leave us with some potential challenges of our own but we’re at the end of a domino chain (is it a chain of domino’s?) so it’s too soon to be clear whether there are any issues for us.

I also spent some time following the progress of the Digital Economy Bill through the Lords this week. There have been various comments on parts of the bill in relation to copyright in terms of individual rights and freedoms as the bill requires Internet Service Providers to take action to prevent or tackle piracy – which means ISPs will have to monitor users activity, potentially cap or disconnect customers, and report copyright breaches to rights owners.

Interestingly, Virgin Media are currently considering deploying software to monitor “illegal” activities on their network, something that may currently be in breach of UK law. Alexander Hanff, of Privacy International (same source as link above), states that “Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) intercepting communications is a criminal offence regardless of what you do with the data,”

This article sets out briefly what the bill covers, and the author, Nisha Baveja, solicitor at Briffa, states that “The second part is that which is causing most concern. Whilst it is likely that disconnection will only be an option to pursue if all other options (including writing to the possible infringer and warning them of the infringement, reminding them again) have been exhausted, there are no precise processes by which an Internet user will be disconnected in the Bill, and no sign of strong appeal mechanisms or tests of evidence. This means that even innocent users whose wireless broadband has been hijacked might be at risk of being disconnected.”

However, from a work perspective I’m interested in what this may mean for us in terms of providing internet access to thousands of people. Early discussion on the bill seemed to suggest that we might have to similarly take steps to monitor and deal with (effectively police) copyright breaches relating to digital content. This, from the Times Higher, considers what it may mean in that “… there are fears that universities, which will be held responsible for the activities of their students, could be unduly affected by the proposals.”

We currently work to ensure people don’t use our services for unlawful purposes of course, so this is nothing new. The change is in the potential move of responsibilities – that we may be held responsible for the actions of those we have given authorised access to our networks. At the moment, we have to make reasonable efforts to ensure that users adhere to the JANET Acceptable Use Policy through our own ‘IT and Learning Resources Regulations’ and we deal with infringements as we become or are made aware of them. That’s quite different from being ourselves potentially penalised for illegal activity.

Some amendments to the bill have already been made but there are still concerns for what the bill might mean for Universities and other public bodies. That’s why I signed a letter set out by the Strategic Content Alliance this week, asking that the position of University and Museums be properly considered in discussions as the Bill makes its way through Parliament.

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