Big tech accountability? Read the backstory to today's policy debates here on Iptegrity.

In an astonishingly frank admission, a key civil servant who worked on the Digital Economy Act (DE Act) has revealed that the UK government did not gather any evidence to support the copyright enforcement policies. They just relied on statistics supplied by the rights-holders. Worse still, civil servants were not able to assess how those statistics were compiled - because the rights-holders weren't willing to let them. Finally, in a damming indictment of the civil service processing of the DE Act, he let slip that they were just trying to make "the best brick they could, with what straw they could find".

The revelations came in a hearing for the Parliamentary Select Committee for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Committee was hearing evidence regarding the Hargreaves report on copyright and was not really intending to discuss the Digital Economy Act. However, MP Anne McKechin (Labour) got in with a question regarding evidence - something Professor Hargreaves had made very strong comments about.

"If I could turn to the quality of evidence. The Open Rights Group asked DCMS for evidence about illegal web content, and were told it wasn't available. They had a similar experience with the Digital Economy Act methodology. How would you comment on their assertions? Is this consistent with basing policy on evidence?"

The response to Ms McKechin's question came from Adrian Brazier, who was on the Digital Economy Act team:

" It is reasonable to acknowledge that the Open Rights Group have something of a point about the evidence used for the Digital Economy Act. It was somewhat opaque. The impact assessment was not based on new research or evidence. We had no independent source of information. It is probably fair to say that the evidence we had, had been offered by the rights-holders, they were unwilling to lift the bonnet and let us see the engines, if you like the workings and methodology."

Ms McKechin had a follow-up question: "the Open Rights Group said they had not seen any methodology. Are you saying that you hadn't seen any either?"

Mr Brazier: "That is correct. We were trying to make the best brick we could with what straw we could find. In those circumstances, I would say however, that we were always clear as to the provenance of the sources we were quoting. We never claimed they were government figures. We were clear that these were figures that were provided by the rights-holders. We were as transparent as we could be in those circumstances, but we could not be transparent about the workings themselves."

So now we know. The Digital Economy Act is a mud brick for the digital world.

His concluding remark was : "This is not a comfortable position for us necessarily to be in."

I bet it isn't comfortable. There is the little matter of a judgement, which has, for the moment, let them off the hook.

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The Parliamentary Select Committee for Business, Innovation and Skills, Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property can be viewed here.

Please cite Monica Horten, UK gov't confesses: we had no evidence for DEAct, www.iptegrity.com, 18 November 2011

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten.

I am a tech policy specialist, published author, post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Currently working on UK Online Safety Bill.

Recent media quotes: BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian, Politico.  Panelist: IAPP,  CybersecuritySummit. Parliament and Internet. June 2022-July 2023 w/ Open Rights Group.

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